The foundation of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) goes back to the decree of Patriarch Tikhon in November 1920. Since that time ROCOR has had six Metropolitans, if we include the present Metropolitan Hilarion. Here we will speak of the significance of the first five. They are now on the other side and ask for our prayers - until such time as the Church decides that there are those among them for whose prayers we should be asking.
Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev
Born to a family of gentry near Novgorod, Metropolitan Antony (1863-1936) was a hugely influential and international figure. He knew all the Patriarchs of his time, in particular those of Constantinople, Antioch, Belgrade and Bucharest, who never once thought of shunning him when he became head of ROCOR. He was a true monk and theologian, a universal teacher and restorer of the Russian Patriarchate and the Church Fathers, who revived the Russian Church from its period of Synodal bureaucracy. His relics still lie in Belgrade, but it is our belief that one day they will be taken back to Russia and there, after his glorification, they will be enshrined.
Metropolitan Antony has wrongly been reproached by some for his writing on the Redemption. (Some of those who reproach him have not even read the Russian original). In this writing he expressed himself in such a way that some had the impression that he placed more redemptive emphasis on Gethsemane than on Golgotha and the Cross. It should be noted that he even withdrew this writing, because his reaction to the Anselmian philosophy of the Redemption, then prevalent in the Russian Church, caused division.
However, now, over seventy years later, we understand the significance of this writing. Metropolitan Antony had a unique understanding of Christ’s Agony in Gethsemane and his redemptive prayer there, which culminated in the highpoint of the Redemption, the Cross. This was because of the Metropolitan’s own Agony for Russia in his own garden of Gethsemane, as he foresaw and then saw Russia’s blood-soaked destiny after 1917, crucified like its Lord. Although Metropolitan Antony’s patron saint was the local St Antony of Novgorod, we believe that the mystical significance of his name is in his universal greatness, which links him back to St Antony of Novgorod’s own patron, the universal figure of St Antony the Great.
Metropolitan Anastasy (Gribanovsky) of Kishinev
Born to the family of a poor priest near Tambov in provincial Russia, Metropolitan Anastasy (1873-1965) was a man of great delicacy and taste. A true monk and man of prayer, he became Metropolitan of ROCOR in Belgrade in 1936, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. It is only now that people understand the significance of his name. He represented St Gregory the Theologian, who, as Archbishop of Constantinople in 379, saw the Church taken over by Arians. This left him to celebrate alone in his tiny chapel of the Anastasia (the Resurrection), from where the Orthodox Faith was to rise again. For it was Metropolitan Anastasy who skilfully steered the Church away from Hitler and from Stalin, through Scylla and Charybdis, so that she would be ready to rise again.
I will always remember the story told to me about Metropolitan Anastasy by the ever-memorable Archpriest Michael Artsimovich some twenty years ago. Then a 22-year old subdeacon who was fluent in German, in 1945 Michael Artsimovich had accompanied the fleeing and aged Metropolitan, who was carrying the Kursk Root Icon, though to American troops in war-torn Bavaria. At any moment they could have been attacked and had the Icon stolen by marauding soldiers, battle-hardened and armed to the teeth, belonging to one side or another. But the grace of God was with them though the Icon and the prayers of the Metropolitan, who remained calm and serene at all times. His only care was the well-being of the Church at a time of chaos, death and destruction.
It was this Metropolitan Anastasy, the Metropolitan of the Resurrection, who brought the Church to a safe haven through war-torn Europe and then to the USA. Even in his nineties, in his very last years, when his health completely gave way so that he had to withdraw from being Metropolitan, he knew that the Church would rise again. But he also knew that it would not be in his time. Therefore, the mystical sense of his name is Resurrection. This was the message that he never tired of preaching in exile and in emigration, during the whole time of the Crucifixion of the Russian Church.
Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) of New York
Born in Kursk in 1903, Metropolitan Philaret (+ 1985) was elected Metropolitan through the intercessions of St John (Maximovich) in 1964. St John feared a division among the Russian bishops in exile. Some of them wanted Archbishop John himself to be the next Metropolitan, some of them wanted another. Therefore, St John proposed the youngest in rank of the episcopate at that time, the recently consecrated Bishop Philaret of Brisbane. The choice was providential.
An ascetic, Metropolitan Philaret lived at a time of astounding spiritual decadence and the decline of religion. However, he resisted the temptations of the world and brought ROCOR safely through them, refusing to swim with the tide. He stated with the same frankness as Metropolitan Antony before him where the Church stood on spiritual and moral issues. His views were firm and uncompromising and it was this spiritual integrity and purity which led him to wish to see others glorified. This at last led to the long-awaited glorification of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia in 1981. This was the great spiritual triumph which led in turn to the gradual collapse of Soviet tyranny over the Church inside Russia.
Metropolitan Philaret is reproached by some for the power obtained under him by some who appeared to be unworthy. Again, the clue to his significance is in his name, which means ‘he who loves virtue’. So great was his own monastic virtue that he was quite unable to believe that others could have vices, unimaginable to him. It is noteworthy that his relics have been found incorrupt. When the time is ripe, as God reveals miracles, then surely the canonical Russian Orthodox Church will glorify him, just as he glorified others, transferring to himself the prophecy of St Seraphim of Sarov, that ‘I will glorify them that glorify me’ (originally referring to Tsar Nicholas and others, who were in their turn glorified by Metropolitan Philaret).
Metropolitan Vitaly (Ustinov) of New York
Born in St Petersburg in 1910, Metropolitan Vitaly was elected Metropolitan in 1985, when he was already at an advanced age. He retired through ill health in 2001 and reposed in 2006. Metropolitan Vitaly had to live through the intensely difficult period when Communism began to collapse in the old Soviet Union. These events were difficult to interpret. On the one hand, there were those who greeted the events and called on ROCOR to unite immediately with the Moscow Patriarchate. On the other hand, there were those who said that nothing had happened and indeed maintain this viewpoint to this day. ‘Posle perestroiki – perestrelka’, they said, ‘The shootings begin after perestroika’). And there were those who greeted the changes, but were also cautious, remembering the cruel deception of 1945, when the Church in Russia had appeared to be free, but was not.
The Metropolitan tended to side, until his retirement in 2001 at least, with the latter party. After that, it is not clear what he thought, since he tragically suffered from memory loss and an entourage which broke away from ROCOR and effectively sequestered him. Of all the ROCOR Primates, Metropolitan Vitaly had to face perhaps the most complex of situations. Mistakes were made, but it is all too easy to criticise mistakes in hindsight and all too easy to make judgements different from those of one who had been born in Russia before the Revolution and lived through all the traumas of the twentieth century. None should overlook how at the end of the Second World War the Metropolitan, then a priest, had been ready to be crushed to death by British Army lorries in his successful attempts to stop the repatriation of Russians to death under Stalin. As a young man, full of vitality, as was his name, the Metropolitan saved thousands of lives. What other Orthodox Metropolitan can say the same?
1400 years ago his patron saint, St Vitaly, was a monk in Alexandria who cared for prostitutes, bringing many of them to repentance, some to monasticism, others to marriage. For this he was cruelly slandered and with St Nectarios of Pentapolis (+ 1925) is a patron saint of those who are slandered. Metropolitan Vitaly was also a monk, not in Alexandria but in New York. Renowned for his strictness to himself, he has been much criticised and even slandered. To those who do this, we say: ‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone’ (Jn. 8, 7). Of Metropolitan Vitaly we are reminded of the words of the ever-memorable Archbishop Seraphim of Brussels (+ 2002), who said to me in 1996: ‘Yes, we have made mistakes, but we have always been sincere’.
Metropolitan Laurus (Shkurla) of New York
Metropolitan Laurus (1928-2008) was born outside Russia, in the foothills of north-eastern Slovakia, to a very poor Carpatho-Russian (Rusnak/Rusin) family. His mother died when he was very young and even as a five-year old, he constantly frequented the ROCOR monastery at Ladomirovo. Not much more than a child, he entered the monastery as a novice. This was his life. He was a monk through and through and this was the only impression of him, one utterly given over to obedience and humility.
In 2001 he, a Non-Russian and at an advanced age, was chosen to become Metropolitan. Aware of the great debates within the Church, he was responsible for steering the ship of the Church to her safe haven after the eighty years of separation that had begun at his birth, a separation forced on the Church by Soviet politics. He it was who led 95% of the Church to her destiny and waited, as we too wait, for the last 5% to join us. He it was, this silent and simple monk, who listened to everyone and only then decided what to do according to God’s Will. He it was, together with Patriarch Alexis II, who re-formed the Russian Orthodox Church from its constituent parts of the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR.
Metropolitan Laurus’ name comes from that of the bay-tree or laurel (laurus nobilis). In Christianity the bay symbolises the Resurrection of Christ and the triumph of mankind thereby. It also refers to the laurel leaves, which have from time immemorial been recognised as the signs of victory. His was the victory, the spiritual victory of unity over disunity. Standing at the wheel of the ship of the Church, he steered her by the stars of the four Metropolitans who had preceded him, by the prayers of all the saints, and those of his bishops, clergy and faithful. He piloted her towards her safe haven, to be an integral but self-governing and worldwide part of the renewed and reunited Russian Orthodox Church.
To the ever-memorable Metropolitans Antony, Anastasy, Philaret, Vitaly and Laurus, Eternal Memory!
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
24 December 2009/6 January 2010