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Protopriest Victor Potapov

"The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission of the Church Abroad Not Only Preserved the Pre-Revolutionary Properties of the Russian Church in the Holy Land,
But Added to Them"

The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Fate of Russian Palestine:
1921-1948
(Excerpts from a lecture presented at the 2nd Church Historical Conference in Moscow)

In 1920, a Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority was formed in Constantinople.., headed by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev and Galich, and the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission submitted to it.

At the second session of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority held in Constantinople on November 29, 1920, the question arose of the urgent need to take steps to bring matters of the REM in Jerusalem to order. In light of the death in 1918 of the Chief of the Mission, Archimandrite Leonid (Sentsov), the Mission remained without a head and was burdened with numerous debts. The debts were accumulated as a result of the pre-World War I purchase of real estate, acquired in the expectation that streams of pilgrims and donations would come from Russia. A member of the Mission, Apostolidis Constanda of Jerusalem, reported to the Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority that the situation of the Mission was catastrophic.

The Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority appointed as temporary Deputy Chief of the Mission one of its members, Hieromonk Meletii, and asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem to elevate him to the rank of hegumen. Fr Meletii was given instructions for the organization of matters. However, soon, on the basis of the written reports by Hegumen Meletii, the Spanish Consul, who represented Russian interests in Jerusalem, and other individuals, it became clear that the situation was severe and the urgent measures were needed to save the Mission.

In order to clarify the Mission's situation in 1920, Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) sent Archbishop Apolinarii of Belgorod to Jerusalem. Metropolitan Anthony's emissary was warmly greeted by the members of the REM and its temporary Chief, Archimandrite Meletii, and the nuns of the two convents, those on the Mount of Olives and Gorny. Introducing some degree of order into the internal life of these two monastic communities, Archbishop Apolinarii was, nonetheless, unable to achieve any improvement over the situation of the property holdings of the Mission in the Holy Land, and two years after his trip, he left Palestine, soon to became a hierarch of the Church Abroad in the USA.

On April 13, 1921, the Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority decreed:

"In light of the exceedingly great significance of Orthodox matters in the East of the Jerusalem Mission, the high material value of its properties, the complexity of the present political and ecclesiastical situation in Palestine and the need for the authoritative resolution of all urgent matters connected with resolving problems which remained unclear and unfinished as a result of the unexpected death of the previous Chief of the Mission, Archimandrite Leonid; and taking into account the report of the present Administrator of the Mission, wherein he states that he is not able to solve the many ongoing problems; and while the delay of such resolution would harm the interests of the Russian Church, the Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority hereby authorizes His Eminence Archbishop Anastassy to embark for Palestine, to take all necessary steps on behalf of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority to organize ecclesiastical, civil, property and all other matters of the Mission which may arise there, and to take all ecclesiastical, canonical, juridical and other actions in his capacity as Plenipotentiary Representative of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority."

Archbishop Anastassy was not only able to obtain the consent of the British authorities on the preservation of the Mission's properties, renting out buildings of the Mission to British institutions, but also helped settle problems in the Church of Jerusalem, headed by Patriarch Damian, a personal friend of Metropolitan Anthony and a man who honored Russia. At that time, the Greek bishops in the Holy Land rose up against their leader. Patriarch Damian, taking advantage of the arrival in Palestine of Archbishop Anastassy, with his participation, ordained a group of new bishops, after which the rebelling hierarchs submitted once again to their patriarch, and peace was restored to the Jerusalem Church. Incidentally, one of those consecrated with the participation of Archbishop Anastassy was the future Patriarch Timothy of Jerusalem, who was until the end of his days grateful to Metropolitan Anastassy.

In 1921, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) was formed, the legal foundation of which was the ukase of His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon, the Holy Synod and the Supreme Ecclesiastical Council of the Russian Orthodox Church of November 20, 1920. ROCOR united within itself those parts of the Russian Orthodox Church which, as a result of the military and political situation, were found outside the reach of the Soviet state.

Representatives of the REM in Jerusalem and of the Orthodox Palestine Society recognized ROCOR as the legal successor outside of Russia of the Russian Church, and its Council of Bishops as the supreme church authority. The British Administration in Palestine recognized the status of the Church abroad, and the Palestine Society as an independent social organization.

Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), founder and first President of ROCOR, had great love for the Orthodox East and deemed close unity with it to be of great importance. Over the course of his entire life in the diaspora, Metropolitan Anthony maintained friendly correspondence with the Eastern Patriarchs and even had a significant influence on some of them. As Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky) noted:

"Vladyka Anthony warned the Eastern Church in his writings against recognizing the 'Living Church' formed by the Bolsheviks and it was primarily under his influence that the Eastern Churches did not adopt the new calendar and other anti-canonical reforms proposed by the Patriarchate of ConstantinopleÉ"

On April 17, 1924, Metropolitan Anthony himself made a trip to the Holy Land, first spending Holy Week and Pascha on Mount Athos. On June 23, he arrived in Jerusalem. Metropolitan Anthony described his impressions of his sojourn in Palestine in a series of letters. I will cite several excerpts from two of them, in which he outlines the situation of the Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, since they paint a colorful picture of the Mission at the time.

"Almost all the huge and many buildings of the podvorie [ecclesiastical branch] as well as the residence of the former Chief are occupied by English Government institutions, and the rent from them comprises the sole revenue of the Russian Mission, which now consists of 10-12 clergy and monastics. The entire flock of our Mission consists of two conventsÉ and another 300 older women who were stranded in Palestine after the war of 1914, and then by the Revolution. These old women, as well as the nuns of both convents, are supported more by the funds of our Mission than by their own efforts, though they labor in great earnest, but they labor upon a rock in an ocean of strangers of other faiths, who fear overpaying these women day laborers or sellers of handicrafts even by a penny."

From another letter:

"Divine services in the chapel of the Holy Sepulchre begin at midnight with an Orthodox matins immediately followed by a liturgy; then an Armenian liturgy is served, then Catholic, etc. But a full five hours before matins, that is, at seven o'clock in the evening, the rotunda in which the chapel sits becomes filled with Russian women who stay here until the end of liturgy, that is until three o'clock in the morning. After working the entire day, they devote their nights to prayer: constantly singing and reading canons and akathists, and then matins and liturgy. These worshiping women live with a great labor and in great need; this is almost a monastery of the sleepless."

His archpastoral visit to the Holy Land imparted spiritual courage to the four hundred souls of the Mission living in the monasteries.

Acquainting himself with the mood of the representatives of the British Mandate in Palestine and examining the potential for material improvement of the Mission, Metropolitan Anthony returned to Serbia and soon sent Archbishop Anastassy to the Holy Land for a second time in order to secure the REM's position in Jerusalem.

A great deal of tact as well as diplomatic skill were required by the heads of the Mission and of the Palestine Society in order to preserve Russian wealth in Palestine. In his work "Russians in Palestine," the writer Antonin Petrovich Ladinsky applauds the talents of the clergymen of ROCOR in managing Russian holdings in Jerusalem, first and foremost of whom was Metropolitan Anthony:

"... [T]he attitude of the British authorities towards the Russian church organizations was benevolent to the highest degree. Playing no small role in this relationship was the tact, moral authority and endurance of the leaders of the Russian MissionÉ

"... The Metropolitan [Anastassy—V.P.] possesses a masterly English, reads a great deal, follows literature, and once desired to discuss literary topics with a visiting writer. The latest book by Morton of the Holy Land lies on his desk. His authority is greatly esteemed among the British representatives. At all official receptions, when the High Commissioner greets representatives of various cults, the Metropolitan is held as the plenipotentiary representative of the Russian community."

In 1925, the construction of the magnificent, three-altared church of the Holy Fathers at the Oak Mambre in Hebron was completed. The building was begun in 1906, but was interrupted by the First World War. Patriarch Damian of Jerusalem had delayed the consecration of this church for a long time, hoping for the speedy rebirth of Russia and that the celebration in Hebron would be attended by the Russian Emperor. Still, Archbishop Anastassy was able in 1925 to convince the Jerusalem Patriarch to perform the consecration of the church anyway.

Here is an excerpt from the memoirs of this time written by Archbishop Anthony (Sinkevich), who served as Chief of the Mission for 17 years, working side by side with Metropolitan Anastassy:

"... In 1926, the British Government established a law on the administration of Russian properties in Palestine, the essence of which was that in light of the lack of clarity of proprietary rights of the Mission--which the Soviet Government had made repeated claims on--the British, in the person of the Governor of Jerusalem, took upon themselves financial and property administration of the Mission. Understanding that in the future they would need to answer for their management, they acted in such as way so as not to cause any dissatisfaction, and did almost nothing without the consent of the Mission. This method of supervision had a series of pluses and a few minuses. The positive aspect lay in the fact that the British applied all their efforts to extract the Mission from its material predicamentÉ The British already considered the question of selling a few Mission properties, except for those registered in the name of the Russian Government, as it was instructed to the High Commissioner of Palestine by the Ministry of Colonies. But because of their desire to act in accordance with the consent of the Mission in matters of administering the properties, they took into account the decisive and energetic actions of Archbishop Anastassy, who knocked on all doors, exploiting his broad contacts throughout Europe, who felt it necessary to preserve all the properties; these were therefore saved and preserved in their entirety until 1948."

In 1934, the British Mandate gave the REM a parcel of land consisting of 10,000 square meters on the right bank of the Jordan River near the site of the baptism of the Lord. It follows, then, that despite its limited material resources, the REM of ROCOR not only preserved its pre-Revolutionary properties of the Russian Church in the Holy Land, but added to them.

In 1935, Archbishop Anastassy began his service as President of the Synod of Bishops of ROCOR and was elevated by the Council of Bishops to the rank of Metropolitan. In 1936, upon the death of Metropolitan Anthony, he was elected First Hierarch of ROCOR, while maintaining his duties of supervisor of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem. Vladyka Anastassy, when at all possible, would make brief visits to Palestine.

The Chiefs of the Mission could not but know that the Bolsheviks would try to seize Russian property in the Near East. On May 18, 1923, the People's Commissar for External Trade and the Plenipotentiary Representative of the RSFSR in London, L.B. Krasin, sent a note to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Great Britain, Marquess Curzon, in which he wrote:

"The Russian Government declares that all lands, hotels, hospitals, schools and other buildings, as well as all real or moveable property of the Palestine Society in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Haifa, Beirut and other areas of Palestine and Syria, or in general wherever it may be, is the property of the Russian Government. The Russian Government at the same time certifies its analogous rights to the property of the former Russian Ecclesiastical Mission, which was under the authority of the former Holy Synod and which, in light of the decree of January 23, 1918, on the separation of the Church from the State, became the property of the Russian State. Finally, the Russian Government claims the same with regard to real and moveable property of the former Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Palestine and Syria (the consulate building, etc.)."

Fortunately, L.B. Krasin's note, as well as the later negotiations of the Plenipotentiary Representative Rakovsky in London (1925), met with no success. Had they achieved their goal, almost all the wealth in Russian Palestine would have forever been lost to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The former Chief of the Mission in Jerusalem, Archbishop Anthony, in his memoirs, recalls that one of the positive aspects of the cooperation of the Mission with the British Mandate Government in Palestaine was its protection from the claims of the USSR.

Under Metropolitan Anastassy, the convent at the Mount of Olives was finished and the refectory church of St Philaret the Merciful was consecrated, the construction of which began during the war in 1914. The capital renovation of the chapel of St John the Forerunner was also completed, was erected over the site of the Finding of His Head, and, some time later, the great church of the Ascension of the Lord, which had suffered serious damage from an earthquake in 1927.

In the 1920's and early 1930's, another convent of ROCOR, Gethsemane, and the Bethany Community of the Resurrection of Christ, comprised a single community, which would have been impossible without the participation of two Englishwomen: Matushka Maria (Barbara-Stella Robinson) and Sister Martha (Alice Sprott). They both converted to Orthodoxy and assumed the monastic tonsure in 1933 during a visit to Palestine on their way to India. In 1934, they received the blessing to found the Bethany Community of the Resurrection of Christ. A year later, Metropolitan Anastassy, by then First Hierarch of our Church, appointed Mother Maria as the abbess.

Wishing to follow her calling and help the poor, the new abbess began to build a boarding school for Arab girls in Bethany. The school maintained high educational standards. Even today it is the only Orthodox school for girls in the Holy Land.

In 1938, Mother Maria passed on the administration of the school to Sister Martha, while she herself founded a monastic community in Gethsemane Garden, property of the REM since 1881, where in 1886 a church in the Muscovite style was built in honor of St Mary Magdalene, Equal-to-the-Apostles. The honorable relics of the Holy Martyrs Grand Duchess Elizaveta and Nun Varvara are buried in this church. The Grand Duchess, practically until the end of her earthly life, supported the church and the church community which formed around it. After her martyric death in Alapaevsk in 1918 and the occupation of that city by a contingent of the White Army, the remains of Grand Duchess Elizaveta Feodorovna and her cell-attendant, Nun Varvara, were moved to China, and then to Palestine, where in 1921 they were laid to rest in accordance with the will of the Grand Duchess.

In 1924, Archimandrite Ieronim (Chernov) was the Chief of the Mission. Serving for only one year in this capacity, he then joined the ranks of clergymen of the REM. In 1935 he was invited by Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko) to the US, where he became Bishop of the Detroit Diocese of ROCOR.

He was replaced by Archimandrite Kyprian (Kern), who arrived in Jerusalem before 1931, then went into the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Evlogii, devoting himself to theology at St Sergius Theological Academy in Paris. While Chief of the Mission in Jerusalem, Fr Kyprian painstakingly studied the legacy of Archimandrite Antonin (Kapustin) and later wrote a monograph devoted to his famous predecessor.

By a decision of the Synod of Bishops of February 2, 1933, the next Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission was Archimandrite Anthony (Sinkevich).

A resident of the Mt of Olives convent, Nun Taisia, wrote that the new Chief ran the Mission flawlessly, even financially, and during the war he achieved the material improvement of the Mission and of its convents.

Among other things, Archimandrite Anthony together with the abbesses participated in the establishment of a special committee for medical services. This committee was headed by representatives of the Anglican and Scottish Churches, and consisted of the Chief of the Mission, the abbesses, representatives of the British Mandate Government, which took under its wing the moral and material aspect of the impoverished population of Palestine.

At the beginning of World War II, the ranks of the monastics of the Mission was filled with Russian pilgrims who lived in Palestine who had remained in Jerusalem since the beginning of the war in 1914. Mother Taisia wrote that during the Second World War, relations between the British authorities and the Patriarch of Jerusalem on one and the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission remained amicable.

Yet, the stretch of peace in the life of ROCOR's Mission in Jerusalem soon changed as a period of new difficulties and disappointments arrived.

Conflict with the Moscow Patriarchate

The international activity of the Moscow Patriarchate was essentially activated from September 1943, right after the reception of the Soviet of People's Deputies of three metropolitans: Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky), Metropolitan Alexy (Simansky) and Metropolitan Nikolai (Yarushevich).

At meetings held on October 20-28, 1943, "the Synod [of the Moscow Patriarchate—V.P] deemed it necessary to conduct the corresponding determination of the properties and buildings earlier belonging to the former Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Palestine, after which steps are to be taken to return them."

By this time, representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate had begun active correspondence with the Eastern Patriarchs, who, as M.V. Shkarovsky writes, "being pressured by other religious currents, expected to receive from the powerful and wealthy Russian Church all sorts of help."

Even before the end of the war, on March 5, 1945, the emissary of the USSR in London delivered a note to the British Government with the reminder of the significant properties of the Russian Empire in Palestine along with a demand to instruct the British High Commissioner to Palestine "to transfer in the shortest time all the properties and all the revenues received from their exploitation to the authority of the Soviet Diplomatic Mission in Egypt."

On September 17, 1945, Great Britain received another letter from the Soviet Government. The British were dragging out the matter of Russian Church property in the Holy Land until the very end of the Mandate in Palestine.

With the aim of strengthening their new international connections, in May-June 1945, Patriarch Alexy (Simansky), understanding that the global goals of Stalin would find great resistance in the Eastern arena of the Soviet tyranny, went on an official visit to the patriarchs of Jerusalem and the East. In the Holy city, the Patriarch attempted to persuade the monasteries and communities in the jurisdiction of ROCOR to submit to the omophorion of the Moscow Patriarchate. The Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate published optimistic reports in the spirit of Soviet propaganda of the time of the unanimous rejoicing and common desire to reunite with the MP, but in reality, the situation was different.

The Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission, Archimandrite Anthony, stood firm, though the clerics accompanying Patriarch Alexy immediately offered him the rank of metropolitan if he went to the MP. By an agreement with the head of the Jerusalem Church, Patriarch Alexy was allowed to visit the convents on the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane.

Noteworthy in this regard are the recollections of Mother Taisia:

"Several days before his (Patriarch Alexy's) arrival in Palestine, Archimandrite [Fr Anthony Sinkevich—V.P] the Governor of Jerusalem warned of this: it was made understood that the gates of the convent must be opened for the Patriarch's visit, but the character of his reception was left completely open.

"... His visit was scheduled for 4:30 pm, the time of our evening services. Not long before his arrival, a squadron of armed British police arrived at the gates which signaled to us the arrival of the visitors. The service had already begun. All the nuns were in the church. I emerged into the narthex to better see all the nuns; I turned around and saw a strange procession in the distance of our long alley leading from the gates of our convent: two white klobuks (those of the Patriarch and of Metropolitan Nikolai of Krutitsk), surrounded by Greek, Syrian and their own clergymen, and a great crowd of Chekists in black shirts; on both sides were British policemen with handheld machine guns, ready to aim.

"... As this procession approached the church, I went inside. The Patriarch and his escorts reached the middle of the church and stopped; not one nun moved.

"At the moment they entered the church, the singers were singing the psalm 'Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked'... The royal doors remained closed. The Greek Archbishop Athenagoras entered the altar and opened the royal doors. The Patriarch entered through the south [doors] and all the clergymen followed him.

"... The archdeacon accompanying the Patriarch, as he was escorting him to the exit, turned to the nuns standing on both sides of the church, and with his gaze lowered, said: 'Mothers, why do you not take the blessing of His Holiness?' All the sisters continued to stand and pray.

"A similar reception awaited the Patriarch at the Convent of St Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane.

"The Patriarch was disappointed with this turn of events, but at the same time, as a person of noble birth, he could not help but be elated at the staunchness and obedience of the sisters." Mother Taisia remembers: "One of those standing near the Patriarch heard him say: 'What discipline Archimandrite Anthony holds!'"

Upon the return of Patriarch Alexy to Moscow, the war for the Ecclesiastical Mission elevated. On August 10, 1945, the Patriarch wrote the following appeal "To the Archpastors and Clergymen of the So-called Karlovatsian Orientation," calling upon them to bring repentance and accept his omophorion. On May 10, 1946, the Council of Bishops of ROCOR in Munich adopted a declaration on the Patriarch's appeal: "We do not find it morally possible to meet these appeals while the supreme ecclesiastical authority in Russia is in an unnatural union with the godless regime, and while the entire Russian Church is deprived of her God-given nature of true freedom."

In early 1946, the President of the Soviet on the Russian Orthodox Church of the Soviet of Ministers of the USSR, G.G. Karpov, offered to Stalin to "To increase the influence upon the Eastern Patriarchs, who, though small in number, are still considered authoritative in the Orthodox world, with the aim of exploiting them in the future on their side to resolve a series of important church questions."

In 1946, Metropolitan Grigory (Chukov) traveled to the Near East. Of this Karpov wrote: "Metropolitan Grigory gave them, as a gift, help from the Russian Orthodox Church in the form of large sums of cash..."

Soon, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem ceased liturgical communion with the REM of ROCOR.

Some rumblings began at Gorny Convent. In the words of Mother Taisia:

"The aim of the Moscow Patriarchate was partly achieved: a division occurred within the formerly peaceful and quiet women's monastery.

"...The monthly disbursement of significant monetary subsidies began in the building of the Greek Patriarchate, in one of its monasteries, by one of their archimandrites, famous for his communist inclinations.

"Secretly from their superiors," wrote Mother Taisia, "the nuns were invited to visit him. Many efforts were expended, many conversations were held with the sisters and the great spiritual authority of Schema-Abbess Antonia [of Gorny Convent— V.P] was employed to explain to the nuns the fatal sin of accepting this money. She called them 'Judas' coins' outright. And all the sisters, with a few exceptions, refused this temptation."

In 1947, the Arab-Israeli war began. From the moment the British left the Holy City, various positions once held by the British Army were seized by Arabs and by Jews. The REM, which, together with the buildings of the OPS, formed the largest part of the so-called "Russian Compound," in the center of the new city on the border between the Arab and Jewish areas, was under the protection of British forces, and according to eyewitness accounts of the time, no one knew whose hands it would fall into after May 15 (the day of the declaration of Israeli independence). Only when the British left a day earlier than the scheduled date did the residents of the Mission see Israeli soldiers freely assume the administrative offices in the Russian buildings just abandoned by the British, while the British guards did not let anyone in from the Arab side. The small monastic community of the Mission (9 persons) had already decided earlier to stay so that the two churches and Mission residence itself would not be left to the whims of fate.

Armed Israeli forces occupied the abandoned buildings. Shots were fired from the Arab side. Shells of all sorts—incendiary and explosive—fell inside the Mission and around it. The bombing continued for 28 days without ceasing, costing the Mission the life of one monk; another was wounded in his own cell. Daily services continued in their proper order, despite the fact that simply leaving one's cell into the corridors and church was very risky because of the bursting shells. The Jewish military command declared all monks of the Mission under house arrest, and deprived of the right of correspondence and contact with the outside world without the permission from the military governor. Two months later, nonetheless, permission was granted to transfer the Mission personnel to the Old City together with a group of Arab prisoners of war. Volunteering to remain at the Mission were Hierodeacon Mefodii and Monk Nikifor, who had the keys to the church and the buildings containing its other property.

Archimandrite Anthony (Sinkevich), then Chief of the Mission, in his reports to Metropolitan Anastassy, wrote of the difficult situation of the Mission during the war. Due to censorship, Fr Anthony had to write his reports in English:

"Morning, May 1/14. It became clear that the British are leaving Jerusalem, and that our Mission would be seized by the Israelis. At 8 o'clock in the morning, British guards stood near our building, but the neighboring buildings—the post office and prison—were already in the hands of the Israeli Army, and noise and loud screams were heard from there...

"We awaited death, and watched from which direction the new masters would enter. Almost immediately, Israeli soldiers burst into the second floor, and we heard their footsteps. But no one came into the Mission itself for a whole two hours, and during this time we felt as though we were sentenced to death.

"At 11:30, standing with parched mouths in the hallway of the Mission, armed soldiers ran in, breaking the door from the neighboring premises. The soldiers were nervous and agitated and expected to meet resistance. Seeing the monks, they asked who we were. The commanding officer turned to me and said in English: 'Don't be afraid, we have come to protect you. Where is the corner room here?' They immediately assumed positions with automatic weapons, hand grenades and other arms inside your corner office, in the hall and in my cabinet with the telephone. Gradually they occupied more and more rooms in this part of the Mission, turning it into their headquarters. During the first few days, since we were on the front lines, everyone who went outside or appeared in the window was subjected to gunfire...

"Our existence in the Mission was more than oppressed, since we felt ourselves almost like thieves in our own homes! Everything happened at the command of the Israelis, who on the outside treated us generally (but not always) with strained cordiality. We did not fear artillery fire as much as we did their possible wrath, though the bombing was very persistent.

"During the 28 days in the Mission, we were subjected to artillery fire every hour, day and night. Our building suffered 100-200 direct hits, and an innumerable number of shells fell around the building. Fr Feofilact was killed in his cell in the Mission by a shell... We buried him during the shelling without a coffin, in a small garden near the small church. Fr Nikolai was wounded in the hand with shrapnel as he entered the basement, which he thought was a safe zone. The shells could not penetrate the thick walls, but sometimes they fell through windows and doors. Practically none of the rooms escaped damage...

"Fortunately, both churches of the Mission suffered only damage to their roofs, and inside everything was almost untouched.

"... On May 6, on the feast day of Job the Much-suffering, the Mission was searched. This was a terrible experience for us. Armed to the teeth, people ordered us to exit the building at three o'clock, having first frisked me. They demended that we hand over all the keys, threatening that otherwise all the doors would be broken. I asked for confirmation, and they showed by a hastily-written paper that read that 'any resistance would be severely punished.' Still, it soon became clear that these were representatives of the Hagan resistance movement, not simple bandits...

"Three hours later I was summoned alone. There were numerous files, letters, rental contracts and others documents concerning our properties collected in the office. The Israeli soldiers were very nervous, telling me that they have no time, so they are forced to collect all of this and hold it for 10 days. I asked that they issue a receipt. They were in a hurry, so it was impossible to compose a complete list. Then I asked them to at least count the documents, and got a receipt for 78 contracts and other valuable papers. I noticed among the documents my correspondence regarding the Soviet campaign against our Mission. I also saw the new book by Fr Michael [Polsky— V.P], "The Canonical Status of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority in the USSR and Abroad."

Those who conducted the search left, and I tried to maintain my composure after this terrible blow, though I was completely crushed. These were documents I had gathered over the course of 15 years. I had to travel throughout Palestine and search for them in old Turkish archives until I was able to find the registration of our lands. I was able to obtain a part of the documents after long court proceedings; many were received in accordance with the Land Agreement during the British Mandate. As a result, the main bulk of our properties were registered in the proper manner. Now it seemed that all these efforts were for naughtÉ The loss of these documents meant the loss of the property...

"Ten days passed, but the documents were not returned. I held out little hope and feared that they would be turned over to the new Soviet Consul Erasov, who, according to newspaper reports, would soon arrive. Two weeks later, I send a letter to the Hagan Security Forces. Referring to the receipt I was given, I indicated that the land documents could not present a threat to security; they belonged to us and are of great value to the Mission. No reply came. After this, I went to the military commander three times and asked him to return these documents, but this was also unsuccessful.

"... Not everyone, not by far, was able to obtain permission to leave with the help of the Red Cross. It was a miracle that our request was approvedÉ With God's help, we were able to fix the doors of the cathedral that were broken by the Israelis, to hide the valuable church items and make all arrangements necessary for the Mission. But most remarkable was the return of our documents! The very same Israeli soldier who had taken them brought them back. He apologized that held them for a month and a half instead of the promised ten daysÉ I left a significant store of food for Fr Mefodii, along with a sum of cash and a document that he was responsible for the buildings and churchesÉ A few minutes before our departure, a person who was responsible for the luggage, at my request, allowed me to take the documents on our property. He looked them over and only withheld a few plan drawings, which remained at the Mission.

"At almost the same time, the Israelis seized Gorny (6 kilometers from Jerusalem), the place of the birth of St John the Forerunner and the meeting of the Mother of God with St Elizabeth. Together with Gorny, the convent of the Russian Mission went to the Israelis, whose 30 nuns had already fled before this.

"As a result of the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, Jerusalem and Palestine were divided between the two newly-formed governments: Israel and the Jordanian Kingdom. The property of the REM and OPS ended up on two sides of the line of demarcation dividing Jerusalem into two parts. Most of the Holy Sites and valuable archeological sites throughout the Old City ended up in Jordanian territory. The building and revenue-producing lots on the outskirts of town remained on the Israeli side, in the so-called New City.

The first few years after the Second World War, the wide-ranging efforts of the Synod of Bishops aimed at establishing church life in the dioceses of Europe, North and South America, Australia and China deprived it of the opportunity to insists on the protection of property rights on the territory of Israel.

On May 15, 1948, Israel declared itself an independent government and among the first to recognize it was the USSR. The first Israeli leader, Ben-Gurion, was grateful to the Soviet Union for its key support in the United Nations and for the Czech armaments delivered to the shores of Israel in the most difficult period of the war for independence. Israel declared all Russian property "abandoned" and all the property of the REM and OPS found on the territory of Israel was, by decree of the Socialist government, turned over to the USSR.

On May 20—five days after the establishment of Israel—a "Commissar on the Russian Properties on Israeli Territory," I.L. Rabinovich, was appointed, who, in his words, from the very beginning, "did everything possible to transfer it to the Soviet Union." A letter from the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, V.A. Zorin, addressed to the President of the Soviet on the Russian Orthodox Church of the Soviet of Ministers of the USSR Karpov, of September 10, 1948, stated:

"Taking into account the developing situation in Jerusalem, emissary Comrade Ershov made the following proposal: '1. To appoint, and to dispatch as soon as possible, a Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission from the Moscow Patriarchate, and also a representative of the Russian Palestine Society, issuing official authority and powers to them to accept and administer the properties... 2. With the aim of preserving the remaining archives of the Ecclesiastical Mission and the Palestine Society from possible destruction or seizure, to transfer all documents for safekeeping at the Anglo-Palestinian Bank or export them with the protection of the Jewish powers to Tel Aviv for holding at our Mission. The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR accepts Comrade Ershov's proposal. I ask that you take necessary steps...'"

Soon afterwards, a Soviet Consulate opened in Israel. After this, the Soviet Government gave permission to send to Jerusalem a Russian Ecclesiastical Mission of the Moscow Patriarchate and gave it the right of owning Russian property.

After the establishment of diplomatic relations with the USSR, the new government of Israel handed over to Soviet representatives all the property found on its territory and acquired by private individuals, the Mission and the OPS not only before but after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Witnesses to the events say that the transfer of properties on Israeli territory was hasty and at times brutal. Many monks and nuns were simply deported from the country. The transfer of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Jerusalem was executed on the basis of a letter of December 1, 1948, written in Russian, with the seal of the Governor of Jerusalem, which stated: "Mister Hierodeacon Mefodii: We hereby propose to you to turn over the keys and all other items of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission to representatives of the Orthodox Church who arrived from Moscow, namely: Archimandrite Leonid and Priest Fr. Vladimir."

This letter was delivered to Fr Mefodii by the named representatives of the MP along with a group of strong young men in civilian clothing from the Soviet Consulate, and a few observers from the Israeli Government. Fr Mefodii categorically refused to hand over the keys to the cathedral entrusted to him. Then the young men in civvies surrounded him and began to beat him. The Israeli observers did not participate in the beatings, but did not protect him. Might won out: beaten unconscious, Fr Mefodii was thrown into a ditch, the keys to the church were torn from his belt, and the "transfer of property" was accomplished. It is worth noting that the bulk of the properties handed over by the Israeli authorities ostensibly to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1948 were then sold to the Israeli state by the Soviet Government in 1964.

That which was lost to the REM of ROCOR was a significant gain for the Communist Party of the USSR. When Israel snatched from the Russian Church Abroad properties in the part of Jerusalem it occupied, it handed it over not to the Russian Palestine Society [as the OPS in USSR was called from 1918 to 1992— V.P] but to the government of the USSR, which in turn handed over a part of the church property to the MP, but sold the bulk of it to Israel.

The REM of the MP used it not only for church needs, but for propaganda. The author of this report was convinced of this when in the 1980's, I visited the Russian parcel in Jaffa. In one of the rooms I found a pile of Communist brochures of the 1940's and 50's and portraits of Soviet leaders.

* * *

In recent years, the Church of Russia obtained its freedom, for which we all prayed fervently for many long years. Unfortunately, even now the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad have not been able to overcome the difference separating us, though recently one observes a warming of relations. I hope that our Conference will serve to benefit church peace. May the Lord grant that this process continues, so that the rich legacy of Russia in the Holy Land would be property accessible to the entire fullness of the Russian Church and that the multitude of faithful from Russia and the children of ROCOR could together venerate the holy sites in Palestine, and together commune of the Holy Gifts in all the churches of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem.

The full text can be viewed in Russian at the website of the German Diocese:

http://www.russian-church.de/muc/konferenz/detail.php?nr=78&kategorie=konferenz