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HE TAUGHT OTHERS HUMILITY:
ON THE PASSING OF METROPOLITAN LAURUS

At Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, on March 16, the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, Vladyka Metropolitan Laurus, First-hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and ruling hierarch of our Eastern American Diocese, reposed in the Lord. He was 80 years of age.

Metropolitan Laurus lived a long and excellent life. He was tonsured a monk 60 years ago. For 40 of the ensuing years he served in the episcopal rank. From his youth, he dedicated himself unstintingly to Christ and to service to His Church, and with the talents given him, brought forth fruits an hundredfold: first and foremost, he offered to God his holy soul, cleansed of passions, decorated with love, boundless kindness and true humility. The main thing he offered to Christ was his fulfilling the commandments given by the founders of the Russian Church Abroad, to accomplish unification with the Church in Russia. "Unification is a holy work," he would say. "Orthodox people must live in peace, according to the Gospels." Metropolitan Juvenaly of Krutitsa and Kolomenskoye, who was principal celebrant at the funeral services, said of Vladyka Laurus: "[We] are accustomed to authority, to power, to force of arms. And here was a person who was unarmed, weak, elderly, but who with his soft voice conquered everyone with his love."

Approximately 25 people from our parish prayed at the Vladyka Laurus' funeral. The 40th day following Metropolitan Laurus' repose falls on Great Thursday, the day the Savior prayed so powerfully for the unity of the faithful in Him. As the ustav does not permit treby [private prayer services] during Passion Week, the Panikhida for Vladyka's 40th day will be served immediately after the Divine Liturgy on Radonitsa at our Iveron Chapel at the cemetery.

The following is one of the many obituaries written about our deceased archpastor; it is printed in a somewhat abridged form.

For the last four years, the Russian public has seen a seemingly strange person appearing on their TV screens. He had the exalted title, "Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York, First-hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia," and was dressed accordingly. He took part in meetings with President Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Alexy II, and then on May 17, 2007, signed the historical Act of Eucharistic Communion between the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia and the Church Abroad; with that Act, the tragic division of the Russian people in the 20th century came to an end. He was greeted with due solemnity throughout the country, and was showered with medals and awards. However, the image he presented was in stark contrast to our usual image of a church leader or, for that matter, any kind of leader.

That outwardly feeble old man spoke softly and indistinctly, moved about during church services without due pomp, and constantly seemed either sleepy or extremely pensive. At official ceremonies, on receiving awards from the top Russian leaders, times when impassioned patriotic speeches would seem appropriate, he would pronounce humble words of thanks, or most often, a homily - for example, on the Holy Trinity or on God's love.

How is it that this person, Metropolitan Laurus, who peacefully reposed on March 16 in his little house at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, accomplished the seemingly impossible: with very little losses, he brought his Church, the Church whose principal raison d'etre, to many of its members, was its opposition to the "Soviet" Moscow Patriarchate, to unity with the Church in Russia?

Today, looking back at his life, and listening to accounts by personal acquaintances, we see not just another example of the dramatic fate of an outstanding representative of the "Russian world" abroad. Concepts - our notions of monasticism, pastor, active love, humility, and faith in God - come to life, and we see the idea of episcopal service in its original essence.
"He was a monk, and in no way a politician!" said Alexander Rahr, a German political scientist who grew up in ROCOR and who visited Metropolitan Laurus on a number of occasions. "But he came to believe that Russia was changing."

"Vladyka Laurus led the Church Abroad with his humility," said Protodeacon Victor Lokhmatov, who in 1957, at the age of 11, came to work at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, and there remained for over 50 years as an assistant to the hieromonk who was later to become Metropolitan Laurus. "With his humility, with the example he set, he taught others and calmed unrest," said the Protodeacon. "He would get up before everyone else, work more than anyone else, and never caused people to be at odds with one another. If I ever came to him to complain about someone - and there were such moments - he would always find something good to say about that person. He regarded everyone with love, especially those who were guilty of some wrong."

Milica Holodnaya, editor-in-chief of Russkoye Vozrozhdenie [Russian Revival], a magazine published in Moscow and New York, recollects an occasion on which she came to the monastery, then headed by Bishop Laurus. Inadvertently walking into the kitchen, she noticed a posted list of people scheduled for dishwashing duty. Bishop Laurus' name was on the list. "He was the absolute master in the monastery," said Holodnaya. "The fact that he included his own name on the list for dishwashing duty says a great deal about him. That was something that greatly distinguished him from most other people of high rank. One could always come to him with any personal woe, without having to make an appointment. You might have to wait a bit, but he would always talk with you as if you mattered to him, and he was that way with everyone."

The monastic tradition remarkably represented by the late hierarch comes from the Pochaev Lavra in Volhyn (now the Ternopol Province of Ukraine). It was in the monastery founded in Ladomirovo, Slovakia, by a Pochaev monk, Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko), that life as a monastic novice began for 11-year-old Vasily Shkurla, son of a local peasant. The future Metropolitan Laurus was a Ruthenian (Carpatho-Russian), a member of a small Slavic people self-identified as Russian, living within the Austro-Hungarian empire, and having a history of much suffering on account of being Orthodox from time immemorial and of having a Russian orientation. The monks in Ladomirovo were actively engaged in publishing. They continued that activity in Jordanville, in an isolated village in the northern part of New York State, where they moved in 1946 after the Red Army arrived in Slovakia. There in 1948, Vasily Shkurla was tonsured a monk and given the name Laurus. He began to teach at the Jordanville seminary - ROCOR's only seminary - while still a senior. Later, he became seminary inspector, while also in charge of the monastery office and book store; moreover, he had gained renown for cooking borscht. "The whole monastery revolved around him," said Lokhmatov. In 1967, Archimandrite Laurus became Bishop of Manhattan, and secretary of the ROCOR Synod. Ten years later, he returned to the monastery as its rector, as Bishop of Holy Trinity and Syracuse.

"He performed all of the obediences in the monastery," said Lokhmatov, "beginning in the cow barn and ending in the print shop at the linotype. Do you know what a linotype is? In those years, the monastery would put out a massive amount of religious literature, and we would try, as much as possible, to send some of it to Russia."

For many Orthodox people in the Soviet Union, the literature published in Jordanville and smuggled across the border was a breath of fresh air, and the only thread tying them to that part of the Russian Orthodox Church not under Soviet control behind the Iron Curtain. It is possible that for Vladyka Laurus as well, the publishing work - and through it, the tie to Russia - turned out to be the seed from which his service toward church unity grew.

In the 1990s, Archbishop Laurus made several secret trips through Russia. He dressed in the clothing of a simple hieromonk, and did not announce his arrival at this or that monastery or church. Protodeacon Lokhmatov recalls his spiritual father instructing him during those trips, "Just don't call me Vladyka."

"Vladyka was very perceptive. Just as in the monastery he always saw far more than others thought he saw and knew, so it was in Russia. He took note of everything, and that prompted him to [conclude] that it was already time to resolve this matter (of division)."

The internal processes leading to unification began in ROCOR long before President Putin's landmark meeting with the hierarchs of that Church in November 2003. In 2001, Laurus had been chosen to be Metropolitan.

In accepting the [ruling bishop's] staff, he said, "And so now what I would not do, that has come upon me. Here, in my old age, my brother bishops have bound me and given me the ship of our Russian Church Abroad. I have taken this, as an obedience to God, to the Church of Christ and to our Council 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 flock . . . . It is necessary for Russian Orthodox people and for Orthodox Christians in general to be one in spirit and action."

After the meeting with Putin and the first official visit to Russia by a ROCOR delegation in May 2004, a complicated negotiation process began. According to its participants, the talks were on the verge of breakdown several times - so different were the experiences and approaches of the two parts of the Russian Church. When the prospect of reconciliation became apparent, discord within ROCOR grew. There were many who disagreed. Lokhmatov recalled how painful the discords were for the metropolitan, but he did not display his emotions. Thanks to that spirit of calm which is noted by anyone who has ever met Laurus even once, it was possible to hold the number of parishes that broke away to a few dozen, mainly in the former Soviet Union, where people had come to ROCOR primarily out of opposition to the official church. And overall, his leadership was as calm as his entire pastoral ministry.

Need one mention that Metropolitan Laurus' departure was the kind of death of which Orthodox believers, who pray daily "for a Christian ending to our life, painless, blameless, peaceful," can only dream? Having completed the "work bequeathed to him by God," having just returned a little over two weeks earlier from his latest trip to his beloved Russia, having celebrated all of the services of the first week of Great Lent except for Saturday, when he fell ill, the 80-year-old elder quietly died in his sleep while the Church was celebrating the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy.

Working on this obituary, I spent a lot of time trying to find in Metropolitan Laurus' published speeches some eloquent quotation describing the national, social, and historical significance of the Russian Church unification. I did not find one. He spoke of unity in words that to us were completely different and unusual. Less than one month ago, on being presented the Compatriot of the Year Award by [Moscow Mayor] Yuri Luzhkov, he said, "We must save our souls in love for one another and in unity. And that demands enormous effort, patience, humility and condescension. Let us actively strive after those virtues, so as to develop and strengthen the unity and peace in the Church that with God's help we have been able to achieve, so that the divisions which befell the Russian Orthodox Church and the peoples of our Fatherland in the tragic 20th century might never be repeated. Let everybody begin to take care to have internal peace, to be at peace with his conscience, which is to say personal peace and life in concord with God. In striving for and achieving such peace, we will be striving for achieving peace and unity in the life of society. Without that, no matter how much we might try, divisions and even enmities will continue. [The 6th-century saint] Abba Dorotheus would draw a circle. At the center of the circle was God. Along the circumference of the circle were we, people. How can we become closer to one another? Everyone must move from his place towards the center, towards God. The closer we are to the center - to God - the closer we will be to one another. That is how I see the path to spiritual unity of the peoples of our Fatherland. By taking that path, we will actively participate in the great cause of uniting all. Amen."

Andrei Zolotov
Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Russia Profile


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