(Towards the 50th Anniversary of the His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus' Pastoral Service)
Archpriest Serafim Gan
On Sunday, June 27, the residents of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville marked the 50th anniversary of the pastoral service of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, whom Hieromonk Roman (Krassovsky) congratulated warmly before the veneration of the cross. On this blessed anniversary, His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco and Western America, on behalf of the bishops and brethren clergy serving at the cathedral of San Francisco on the feast day of St. John read a congratulatory address to His Eminence Vladyka, wishing him Divine assistance in his difficult task of serving the Russian Church.
The sheer volume of cares and burdens of our First Hierarch is difficult to grasp: he is First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, President of the Sobor [Council] of Bishops and of the Synod of Bishops, Superior of the most renowned monastic community in the Russian Diaspora, Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, and the Rector of its Seminary, Editor-in-Chief of the chief publication of church society, Pravoslavnaya Rus' [Orthodox Russia], and bears many other responsibilities not directly connected with his duties, down to the task of daily needs of managing the monastery.
Vladyka joins 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 does not complain. Quietly and humbly he fulfills his obediences and patiently endures all sorrows. Yet Vladyka is not “roped off” from the wide array of visitors, not by a doorman, not by an an aloof secretary. You can enter his office at any time, no one will subject you to suspicious interrogation: Why, what for, on what matter, but Vladyka cannot see you now, he is busy, etc… He can be stopped on the way from church to discuss a serious matter, he will not wave you off with excuses that he is too busy… No squadron of subdeacons guards him (except during services), escorting him to the door of his cell, keeping admirers and beseechers at bay. He opens his own doors, puts on his own rassa, checks the church calendar on his computer himself and does most things himself. No one prepares special dishes for him; he eats the same food as the lowest novice together with the monastic brethren. The accessibility and unpretentiousness of Vladyka are rare.
Seminary graduates of the class of 1967, the year Archimandrite Laurus was consecrated bishop and appointed to Manhattan, opened the 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 know Vladyka even now.
Interesting and educational is how the late Archbishop Seraphim (Ivanov, +1987) of Chicago and Detroit called Vladyka Laurus' life in his notes on his consecration.
His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus was born Vasily Shkurla on 1 January 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 monasteryóin some sense an heir to Ladomirovoóthe 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 toallow 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 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 laborer] there. He also studied with A.A. 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 the monkhood 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 monasteriesóSt. 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 Patrology, 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 maturation, 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 himóalong 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 ĎDivine 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 rejoicesóthe flock that is now both mine and yours… But I think, more than anyone, Archbishop Aveky 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 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 continues 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'.
Kind, devoted and loyal helpers to Vladyka always were and continue to be to this day His Grace Bishop Peter (Lukianov) of Cleveland, who for many years served as Vladyka Laurus' secretary, consecrated last year on the feast day of SS Peter and Paul; Protodeacon Victor Lokhmatov, by Vladyka's side since 1957 and Reader Nicholas Olhovsky, Metropolitan Laurus' cell-attendant.
From the 1990's, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus visited Russia more than once to acquaint himself with church life in Russia and to visit holy places in the fatherland. Last autumn, His Eminence accepted with gratitude the invitation of His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia to visit the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, given to him by President V.V. Putin. The first official visit to Russia of His Eminence occurred in May of this year.
The life of Vladyka Laurus was characterized as interesting and edifying by the late Archbishop Seraphim of Chicago and Detroit in his notes on his consecration.
Vladyka Laurus serves God and man as a clergymen for 50 years now. How many joys and sorrows has he felt during his service! And despite all temptations, he has preserved the spirit of peace and now is for all of us an example of strong faith, reliance on the help of God, the devotion to His will, love for the Church and monastic humility and patience, of which one of Vladyka's spiritual children writes: “It is difficult to give him his due without incurring his objections, which stem from his humility, but to all who know him, he is a true example of piety and monastic good works.”
We wish His Eminence all of God's help in his service to God and to us, his faithful children. What gift can we bring him now? Let us learn from Vladyka to believe in God, to have faith in Him and humble devotion to Divine Will, which will lead us to all that is good. By his example, Vladyka teaches us these good works. By these good works, Vladyka, as the good archpastor and helmsman, wisely and calmly leads our ecclesiastical vessel.