IN MEMORIAM: HIS EMINENCE METROPOLITAN LAURUS (1928-2008)
Today my heart and soul are filled with spiritual joy, spiritual mercy, the mercy of God. I am always joyful when I am in the holy Russian land. For me this is a Holy Land. I am joyful when I am able to concelebrate with hierarchs, priests and their flock, to pray to God and be worthy of the great mercy of God – to partake of the Mysteries of Christ here, in this holy land.
For myself I am from the Carpathians. That is where the Slavs came from. And we were brought up to look on Russia, the Russian land, as a Holy Land…I ask for your holy prayers that the Lord may make us worthy to be together with the saints, especially with the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, who suffered and abundantly watered our Russian land with their blood.
Metropolitan Laurus after the Divine Liturgy at Sretensky Monastery in Moscow
on 24 February 2008, as recorded by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov
There are people whose calling and destiny it is to fulfil a great task. They do not in the least seek after this, but they are chosen by God. They have greatness thrust upon them. For example, in Moscow on Monday 17 March the influential Russian Union of Orthodox Citizens (UOC) suggested naming a street after a poor peasant boy from Slovakia.
‘The merits of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus are so great that streets in our cities deserve to be named after him. A majestic Cathedral should be build to commemorate this outstanding man and the unification of the Russian Orthodox Church’, said the head of the UOC Moscow Department, Kirill Frolov, adding: ‘The UOC regards Metropolitan Laurus as a national hero. The unification of the Russian Orthodox Church was a great deed on the part of His Eminence, who achieved it despite devilish resistance from opponents of the Church and of Russia. The fact that Metropolitan Laurus passed away on the day of the Triumph of Orthodoxy is the clearest proof of this. The unification of the Russian Church is indeed a great triumph for Orthodoxy’.
Vladyka had been found early on Sunday 16 March, the morning of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, by Protodeacon Victor Lokhmatov. ‘His hands were under his head, as I always saw him when he slept’, he said. ‘He taught souls through the example of his life. He would get up earlier than all the others, he worked harder than all the others...He always had something good to say about others’. The future Metropolitan ‘carried out all the monastic obediences, starting from the cowshed to the typography’. We should not forget that the Monastery in Jordanville did its utmost to send out books to spiritually-starving Russia. Its postage bill to Russia at the beginning of the 90s was $5,000 a month.
As a bishop, the future Metropolitan was to be seen dressed as a simple hieromonk. One of his obediences was to wash the dishes in the Monastery. He would not have dreamed of removing his name from the rota, just because he was the abbot and had become a bishop. He was famed for his borshch soups. It was always possible to talk to this exemplary monk, always accessible like all the best hierarchs of the Church Outside Russia. And on being chosen as Metropolitan in 2001, he said:
‘And now what I feared has come to me. In my old age my brother bishops have bound me and entrusted the ship of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia to me. I have accepted this as obedience to God, to the Church of Christ and to our Council of Hierarchs. For my part I do not feel any superiority or any strength to guide this ship. I merely trust in God’s help and the prayers of our flock. Russian Orthodox and Orthodox in general must be one in spirit and deed’.
It was at the Council in San Francisco in May 2006 that I first understood the nature of the Metropolitan’s humility. Here I saw not a Metropolitan, but rather a poor village boy, whose mother had passed away, in the Carpathian foothills in Slovakia. In my mind’s eye I saw him pedalling his bicycle, one of the best investments that the local Monastery ever made, to school in Svidnik, avoiding the Nazi soldiers. (Where is that bicycle now? Standing rusting in the corner of a barn in the Carpathians?) But then in San Francisco, Metropolitan Laurus stood side by side with Metropolitan Amphilochy of Monetengro, with a dozen bishops, presiding over a Council of a worldwide Church on the far distant shores of the Pacific Ocean.
This was a destiny. How was it possible? Because the Metropolitan was not a learned professor, not a politician, not a prince of the Church, who talk but do not do, but for over sixty years a true monk, who simply listens and then does. He conquered by his example, by his Carpatho-Russian sincere faith, which is indeed greater than riches, by his virtue, by his humility.
As for the greatest event in his life, the canonical communion of the two parts of the Russian Church, the Metropolitan suffered greatly at the dissent of the vocal but small minority who opposed the episcopate. He always wanted to keep everyone together. Indeed, there will be those who will say that the stress caused by that dissent brought on his repose. He hid his emotions and his peaceful and calming spirit no doubt helped limit the amount of dissent, but nevertheless he suffered, a victim of the disobedience of others.
Having returned from his beloved Russia two weeks earlier, the Metropolitan served all the offices of the First Week of the Great Fast, except for Saturday, because he was not feeling well. The manner of his repose was that which Orthodox pray for – ‘painless, blameless, peaceful’, and it happened on the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, when by Moscow time, that Triumph had been completed. The day of the restoration of the icons was the day of the repose of him who had restored unity. He had completed his task, fulfilled the destiny which had been asked of him, the good and faithful servant had run his course and it was time to rest.
There may be some who will try and use his repose for their own ends. We believe it more likely that his repose will rather seal unity and bring back to the fold those of goodwill who are still reticent. As a prominent laywoman in New York, Lyudmila Kholodnya, has said: ‘The schism is already on the sandbanks and I think that it will end with this’. We recall that less than a month ago Metropolitan Laurus was in Moscow, receiving the ‘Compatriot of the Year’ prize from the Mayor of Moscow. The Metropolitan said: ‘We must save our souls in love for each other and in unity’.
Exactly a week ago I sent Vladyka a postcard from the shores of the North Sea and asked for his prayers. I do not know whether he received it or not. I remember how I had once wanted to ask him a question. He smiled at me in his grandfatherly way. I had received my answer and it was no longer necessary to ask my question. Everything had been said in his smile. But I will remember him best at the Council in San Francisco. In the talk I gave there, I said a word in his native Carpatho-Russian – ‘po-nashomu’, meaning ‘in our Carpatho-Russian language’. His smile was unforgettable. I think he was touched that someone had remembered his Carpathian roots, those simple and honest roots that had determined the course and pattern of his life and set us all an example.
Metropolitan Laurus, the fifth First Hierarch of the Church Outside Russia in 87 years, was Metropolitan for only seven years. He was the last bishop of the pre-war generation. All our other active bishops were born after 1940. We do not know what will happen at their Synod after the Paschal celebrations and who will take the place of the Metropolitan as Sixth First Hierarch of our Church. All we can do is pray and obey, as the Metropolitan would surely have advised us to do.
But if I may add a thought of my own, the best thing that could happen is that all those who call themselves Russian Orthodox and live outside Russia, whether in Western Europe, the Americas or elsewhere, should now, with the blessing of Patriarch Alexis and His Synod, join themselves to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. In this way, the spiritual unity that we already have may be transfigured further into a visible administrative unity. This would be the greatest memorial to Vladyka Metropolitan, much greater still than a majestic Cathedral in Moscow. To him we all sing: