Source: Orthodoxy and the Contemporary World
Protopriest Andrei Papkov was born in Munich, and received his education and carries on his ministry in America. The roots of his family are here, in Russia, in the Province of Saratov.
Our conversation was, first of all, about the role of traditions in church life and about those people, thanks to whom they have been preserved. Amazingly, these traditions have not only been preserved for subsequent generations of Russian people living abroad, but have also returned to Russia, helping those who have found the Faith and are beginning their own church life.
—Father Andrei, in today's Russia the majority of church parishioners are people who have come to the Church as adults. They were not raised in churchly families; they have not grown up in tradition. Their church life is frequently quite complicated, because traditions to a great extent define the direction of one's spiritual life. What is the situation in the Church Abroad?
—What you are speaking about—that people are now coming to the Church who lack traditions—has both positive and negative aspects Because we try, of course, to preserve, as far as possible, the traditions of our fathers and grandfathers. Yet one should say that not everything was all right in past times, even before the Revolution. There were negative sides to that way of life, and because of them, perhaps, such upheavals later took place. Church life was for many simply a matter of dos and don'ts. I might not say the "basic masses," but a very significant portion of the Russian people was not as churchly as one could have wished.
It therefore seems to me that the people who are coming to church in our time, without negative baggage—it is perhaps easier for them to save their souls, and they adapt more readily to real churchliness. They approach the task of the salvation of their souls more seriously and wish to learn how to accomplish this. Meanwhile, those who have been born into Orthodox family are not accustomed to this. In this there are, of course advantages; but there are also certain dangers. They readily sense that they are "the Lord's": "I have come to the Church; this is my Church; all is well. Our priest is, you know, a so-so person. He's a simple man, what can you expect, just a batiushka?” You see, people born in Orthodoxy have perhaps less respect for the priest than those who are now coming. There are perhaps particular reasons for this. I have occasionally come into conflict with such people—those who do not like what the priest is doing, and say: "Where my grandmother lived they rode the priest out of town on a horse and beat him with birch-rods for such things!" This sounds quite savage, but I have had to listen to such things… Adherence to tradition does not totally guarantee that all will be as it should.
Regarding how things stand with us abroad… more than 90% of those who attend Holy Protection Cathedral parish in the city of Chicago have come from Russia, the Ukraine, Belorussia, over the past 15-20 years. And many of them come really, very sincerely and seriously to the Church, genuinely want to learn, ask advice, request guidance. This is very encouraging.
On the other hand, in this contingent of recently arrived people one senses a colossal ignorance of church life. For example, many, for some reason, do not want to have their children baptized soon after birth: "We'll wait a while." They bring their child to be baptized when they are already 2-3 years old, and he, not understanding what is happening to him, begins to act up, because we baptize by full immersion. One inevitably then observes a very ugly scene of the priest struggling with the child as he is trying to get him under the water. For many reasons it is better to baptize children at an earlier age…
Or take weddings. People are living the family life, raising children; but when I tell them: "You have to have a church wedding", they answer: "Now, father, this is too serious a matter. We want it simpler…” And it is very difficult to convince them otherwise. One sees a particular type of spiritual ignorance, a certain consumerist and superstitious attitude toward holy things.
—You finished Holy Trinity Seminary and served for many years in Holy Trinity Monastery, in Jordanville. What significance does this monastery have for Orthodox people in America?
—It used to have a vast significance. It preserves it even now, of course, as an old memory. Beginning with the 1940s and '50s, Holy Trinity Monastery was the spiritual center of Russian Orthodoxy beyond the borders of Russia. There they set up the only church publishing house in the free world: it had its own print shop and sent out its own publications and liturgical books to Russia and, in general, to anyone who needed them abroad. There a seminary was established to train priests; and there was a monastery where people found spiritual consolation amid all the difficulties and sorrows of their lives. Pilgrimages were organized to it: people came from far away, and are still coming. This is really a spiritual center, or, as Vladyka Anastassy referred to it, "our Lavra abroad."
The monastery is situated on 800 acres (approximately 400-500 hectares) of land. In the past it had its own agricultural enterprise, its own dairy operation, truck-gardens, fields; and the monastery in fact supported itself totally with its own labor.
I repeat: it had great spiritual significance, especially when there were old Russian monks, of whom none now remain.
There were wonderful spiritual guides. Vladyka Averky (Taushev) attracted a great many. When I was a seminarian he taught New Testament. He was a man who was deeply committed to his work. Many considered him a pillar in our time—a tower of patristic, traditional Orthodoxy. He was foreign to any sort of modernism in the ecclesial, canonical sense; he strictly preserved what was transmitted from old Russia—the best traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church. He was a very gifted homilist.
—Yes, today in Russia it is his sermons that are the best known of his works.
—Near the end of his life they collected them; they fill four volumes. He had a marvelous memory. He would go out onto the ambo, his staff in his left hand, close his eyes and begin to speak… Afterwards, as a rule, his sermon would be published in "Orthodox Russia"; and if you had recorded the sermon on tape and later compared it to what appeared in print, you would find everything, even all the commas, in their proper places. He obviously thought through his sermon, went through it aloud, and later and later wrote it down, or not—in any event, he had a photographic memory. Sometimes we simply followed this. But he would speak for a long time, no less than 20 minutes, and at times this was a little tiring.
But of course it was very valuable that our seminary body lived with the monastery brethren as one family. For example, the Moscow Seminary is now located at the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra; but the monastery and the seminary are two separate entities. One has one life, the other a different one. In Jordanville in those times everyone lived together: the seminarians were obligated to work at monastery obediences, to labor for their education, room and board. They worked everywhere: at farming tasks, in the book store, in the print shop…
—And they also took part in the monastic services…
— And this was very important, because everything was done in an orderly fashion. At least once a week they had to chant and read on kleros, to assist in the sanctuary; also, of course, on Sundays and feast-days. And all the seminarians were exposed to the monastic liturgical tradition, they "absorbed" it.
When we travel to the monastery, we all feel ourselves to be as in our own homes. Or if we encounter a priest who also graduated from Holy Trinity, it is not important that he finished seminary 20 or 30 years ago. The sense of this brotherhood is preserved, and the service everywhere proceeds identically: there are no deviations. During divine services in our churches we feel ourselves as in one another's homes. One must say, by way of contrast, that in the churches of other Local Orthodox Churches something quite different is unfortunately observed.
I say this not as criticism, but am merely remarking that, for example, at St Vladimir's Seminary, which is under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America, the students attend classes during the course of the week, and on the weekends travel to their own churches. The Greeks to Greek parishes, the Antiochians to Antiochian parishes, the Bulgarians to Bulgarian parishes: in general, each to his own. And the liturgical traditions are very different one from another. I think that if you were to gather the graduates of that seminary together, you will see that they lack uniformity in the divine services; but people come together, draw close to each other, when they pray in a uniform manner. For this reason, Jordanville has given a very valuable education to future priests.
—Did you know Vladyka Lavr for a long time?
—My earliest memories of him date back to 1956. I saw him for the first time when I was five years old. At that time he was a hieromonk. Later, he would often travel to the parish where I was raised and grew up. Our rector was at the time Fr Seraphim Slobodskoy. Vladyka (then Hegumen, later Archimandrite Lavr) often traveled down to serve with us. Afterwards, when I was studying at the seminary, he taught us patrology. And even later, from 1982, I served for twenty years at the monastery. Until 2001 I served under Vladyka Lavr as a protodeacon, and in 2001 he ordained me a priest. I left Jordanville in 2005.
I had the opportunity to work with him on the Synodal Church Music Committee. He was our chairman, involved himself in all the necessary aspects of church music, and often gave me instructions. We lived, as it were, next to one another: we were for all intents and purposes neighbors. Every Sunday, and even during the week, our paths would cross, we would see each other. There we lived, one may say, as a family. Vladyka was a father for us all, was with us for all our family feasts, came for our name-days. He was a very accessible person. We feel ourselves orphaned, and within myself I still do not feel that he is gone. Despite the fact that he was already 80 years old, I never would call him an old man. He was young of soul, and it seemed that Vladyka Lavr always was and always would be: that was my feeling.
—I understand that Vladyka was a very multifaceted individual. At a conference on church music you related that he himself typeset Ivan Gardner's book…
—Yes. He was still a child when he went to live in a monastery—in the Carpathian Mountains of Czechoslovakia. He undertook each of the monastic obediences and could do everything: he knew all aspects of monastic life thoroughly, including the print-shop, the office. Before he was made a bishop, he worked a great deal in the printery, on the linotype machine. The next couple years (1969, 1970), Vladyka traveled from New York to the monastery every week to teach classes in the seminary. When it came time to publish Gardner's book, Vladyka would go to the print shop at the end of the monastery work day, when everything was quiet, and would sit at the linotype and work through the night on The Liturgical Singing of the Russian Orthodox Church—which is, in my opinion, Gardner's masterpiece, and which has been republished here, in Russia.
—In our conversation, the name of Protopriest Seraphim Slobodskoy has come up. Probably every Orthodox person today now begins his church life by studying his Law of God. Yet in practical terms we know nothing about Fr Seraphim himself. Tell us something of him, if you please.
—Fr Seraphim (Seraphim Alekseevich Slobodskoy) was born in 1913, in the Diocese of Penza, where his father was a priest. The last place of his service was in Petushki, in the Vladimir Province. Fr Aleksey suffered during the persecutions, and was executed by firing squad. Fr Seraphim, of course, was from childhood a believer, a churchly person, and helped his father in church. He was also a great aficionado of bell ringing, and was a campanist of high attainments. Before the War he was trained as an artist. During the War he was captured, and while held in one of the camps for military prisoners, he and my father met for the first time, and ever after were like brothers.
When they found themselves in very difficult conditions, not knowing what today would bring, let alone tomorrow, they made a vow that if the Lord would deliver them from all of that, when peace and a normal life returned they would build a church, an Orthodox church. They would draw up the plans and do everything properly. I will say right off that later everything turned out just that way: Fr Seraphim became a priest, the rector of the church in Nyack, which he built. My father executed its frescoes. And my godfather, Andrei Aleksandrovich Rostovtsev (they made their vow among the three of them) built the iconostasis.
After the War, Fr Seraphim married Elena Alekseevna, nee Lopukhina, and in 1951, on April 22nd, Palm Sunday, he was ordained a priest. This is why, by the way, I know this—it was the day on which I was born. I was born on the day of his priestly ordination, he measured the length of his priesthood by my age. He would ask: "How old are you already?" "Eighteen." "Aha, that means I've been serving for eighteen years!" He baptized me; it was his first experience at the font.
Sometime in 1952, Fr Seraphim immigrated to America. He served first in New York. In 1953, he was assigned to Holy Protection parish, in the town of Nyack. There was no church; they served in rented premises. From 1956-1957, his church was built.
Fr Seraphim was an ascetic pastor. Totally unmercenary, he lived very modestly. He gave himself wholly to his flock. He was sickly: when they traveled to America, he contracted streptococcal angina, and several times he almost died, as they did not treat his illness properly. Later on, his heart began to give out; in general he had a great many bodily ailments, yet he never grew despondent. He had a ruddy complexion, and participated in sports: soccer, volleyball, skittles. The youth idolized him. The parish school, which he founded, was exemplary—at one time we had 150 students attending, and they came, some of them, from quite far away. In the summertime, he was the spiritual father at the children's camps where he also gave them catechism lessons. He guided the spiritual upbringing of the youth. And, of course, in addition to the fact that he built the church, he founded a model parish, a very strong one, which although it is no longer the one he built, was very important in his labor of writing the Law of God.
He sensed an incredible spiritual hunger among the people who found themselves abroad during the War. In Germany, even before he became a priest, he conducted all sorts of religious discussion groups among the youth. And he saw this spiritual thirst… When he commenced the writing of The Law of God, he entitled it: "A Catechetical Textbook for Family and School". In fact, this proved very useful for both parish schools and the family; but it is even more useful for self-instruction. Fr Seraphim managed in a single book to relate much about a great deal: it contains material about prayer, about the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, explanations about the divine services, and a little about the history of the Church. For someone who knew nothing there was some sort of information. He wrote a goodly amount about the Orthodox Faith: the section on the articles of the Creed is quite extensive—and this was done intentionally.
Fr Seraphim wrote The Law of God at night, when he was not tormented with endless telephone calls. I think that for him the telephone was the most terrible instrument of torture: he was constantly on the phone. But when he found time to rest, Fr Seraphim did not rest: he wrote The Law of God.
What can I say about Fr Seraphim? To me he was as close as a family member. We lived next to each other; I grew up in his house, was a close friend of his son, Alexey (we were the same age, went to school together, were altar-boys together in church, rang the bells together). Church was the center of our existence. Fr Seraphim was full of the joy of life; he had a good sense of humor; really loved to celebrate. There was never anything insincere about him; hypocrisy was organically alien to him; there was no wickedness in him. He placed the truth of God, the truth of the Church and the truth of life above all else. There could never be any understatements: if there were any misunderstandings, he took the bull by the horns and resolutely took a stand. I will give you an example.
Not far away there was a certain famous pastor, Fr Adrian (Rymarenko—later Vladyka Andrei ). He was priest in a nearby church, several minutes away by car—we were neighbors, as it were. And Fr Seraphim noticed that Fr Adrian was not treating him as he had in the past, that there was something off, whereas before relations had been quite cordial. Fr Seraphim could not understand this… He acted according to the saying of the Apostle Paul: "Speak every man truth with his neighbor:… let not the sun go down upon your wrath" (Ephesians 4:25-26). And he went to Fr Adrian: "Fr Adrian, what is the matter? What has happened? How have I offended you? What is the reason for this attitude of yours?" "No, Father, there is nothing." Fr Seraphim smote the table with his fist, and he had a formidable fist: "Fr Adrian, I am not going to get up off your couch until you tell me what's wrong. I'm waiting." And everything went as it should. That was the sort of person Fr Seraphim was. That was the kind of pastorship he exercised, and that was how he was in life in general: irrepressible, honest, a truly sincere man.
—When did he repose?
—In 1971, on November 5, a Friday evening after serving. He served until he no longer had any strength. He died at the age of 58. I should say that in his later years he was very ill; his heart was in very bad shape. They had begun to perform heart operations on him. He traveled to Cleveland, to a clinic that was the first in America to perform such procedures. They examined him and said: "We can do nothing to help you. You would not survive an operation." He returned home and began to prepare for death. Yet he was never depressed, and his voice was as bold and full of the joy of life as ever.
Fr Seraphim, I think, left a great imprint upon the life of all who came in contact with him.
—Fr Andrei, you have raised quite a large family. Tell us, please, how a man senses, when he knows his own roots, that this is what he should do? And how, so far from Russia, have you managed to bring children up in the traditions of Russia; and have you been successful in this?
—Well, my family is not, perhaps, so large; but it is scattered over the face of the earth. I will not speak of the fact that here, in Russia, I have relatives who have never traveled outside Russia—in Saratov and St Petersburg. My mother is still alive. She has a male and a female cousin here. My wife and I have four children. Three live now in Chicago with us, and our eldest daughter works in Budapest, teaching in the university.
How did we manage to raise children abroad? With great difficulty, because the surrounding society is not very conducive to a positive, moral upbringing. To rear means to instill a soul in a child, to try to transmit to him what is better than what you yourself have. This is very hard. It seems to me that in Russia one can raise a child more successfully. It is a great sorrow when a child grows up and you see that he is lacking this or that; he does not have enough of this or that; or that I have not given him this or that… Yet my children are good, thank God.
And so far as roots go… On the one hand, I have an idle curiosity as to who my ancestors were; but on the other hand, this conveys some sort of inner satisfaction. I knew from what my father said who my ancestors were, but I I learned more from other relatives in Russia. So, for example, when I traveled to Saratov, when I was at my cousin's home I saw family photos for the first time and learned what my grandfather and great-grandfather looked like. When my father found himself abroad, he had absolutely nothing, not a single photo. The front, captivity, that is what he had. Thus, a vacuum in my soul has been filled, I could say.
—You have let it slip that the Orthodox Church in America has always sensed itself to be a Church in exile.
—I should correct that observation. The American Orthodox Church does not sense any feeling of being in exile at all. It blends in harmoniously with the surrounding milieu. But the Church Abroad really senses the consequences of exile, and not only in America, but throughout all the countries of the diaspora in general.
—And how does this manifest itself?
—It is not in its own country; it is not quite itself. Here in Russia, you look out the window, and see a church standing there. This is my church, the church of my ancestors, this is in my genes, in my blood. But there what one sees is some Catholic church, or some Anglican church, or some other kind, not one's own. We live a schizophrenic existence, if you want to put it that way. We have somehow become used to this, but even so it is not normal. It is this way: I have a social persona, in the American sense, and I also have an individual persona. After my ordination, I worked for five days a week in a secular middle school as a music teacher. From Monday through Friday I was "Mr. Papkov." On Saturday and Sunday I was Fr Andrei. Thank God I have gone over completely to church service, and there is no more of that.
In what else is there a sense of exile? I was not born in Russia, but how many people have come from here, as adults! Take my father. He never managed to learn English. But he didn't have to: he worked with his hands, he lived in his own interior world, his inner interests were spiritual, aesthetic. He was a complete alien there in America. There people in general live by the adage "live and let live." They do not delve, so to speak, into the soul. You can remain yourself; but you still sense that you have been torn away from everything—from the land of your fathers and grandfathers. Very often our emigre churches were set up simply, in an apartment, or were so constructed that people called them "barracks with domes." Or they would buy of roomy garage and put a cupola up on it—that was a church for us. I still remember such churches.
—What was the pivotal point in your life?
—Pivot. I like this word very much and use it myself very often. The pivoting function is fulfilled in the family by the parents: "Orthodoxy, autocracy, nationality". That is all. We were raised to love Russia, to love its history, culture, the Russian people, its rich traditions, its even richer heritage. I think that most of the people close to me in their political convictions are monarchists, moreover Orthodox monarchists. Within us all this is imbedded in the marrow of our bones. This is our pivoting point.
Interviewer: Natalia Gorenok
Protopriest Andrei Papkov was born in 1951, in Munich. In 1973, he finished Holy Trinity Seminary. That same year he was ordained a deacon. He was graduated from the departments of philology and music at the New England Conservatory (Boston, MA), earning the degree of Master of Music.
He served at Holy Protection Church, in Nyack, NY from 1973-1976, at the Cathedral of the Mother of God, the Joy of All Who Sorrow, in San Francisco, CA, from 1976-1982, at Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY, from 1982. In 1980, he was elevated to the rank of protodeacon. In 2001, he was ordained a priest by Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad. Since 2003, he has been the senior priest, and since 2005 the Senior Priest of Holy Protection Cathedral, in Chicago, Illinois. In 2005, he was elevated to the rank of protopriest.
Founder and director of the summer Church Music School at Holy Trinity Seminary, in Jordanville; acting chairman of the Church Music Committee of the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR. In September of 2008, he was assigned as a member of the commission on the canonization of the saints of the Sacred Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.