The 1935 Nativity Epistle of the Most Reverend
Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky)
Your humble servant Anthony, Metropolitan of Kiev and Galicia by the blessings of the Almighty, welcomes his God-loving flock scattered throughout the world with the feast day of the Nativity of Christ and Epiphany and wishes it good health and salvation, and more importantly, wishes to remind us all that we are impermanent guests in this world. We may drink from the Lord’s cup until our passing, though this will not slow its coming, and if we think it may, then all the more reason for us to ponder our passing and prepare for it with prayer and to struggle with our passions.
If we were all to pay heed to such virtuous wisdom, bequeathed to us from the Holy Fathers of the Church and Holy Scripture before that, then our lives would be much easier and we would always remember the words of the Paschal teaching, “No one shall fear death, as the Savior’s death freed us all.” Furthermore, if we approached the inevitable trial awaiting us all with prayer, then it would be appropriate for us to recall also the words of St. John Chrysostom which are read every Holy Pascha, “Let no one weep for his iniquities, for forgiveness shines forth from the grave.”
Alas, few take these admonitions to heart and instead spend their life in frivolity, idle pursuits and sinful diversions without knowing true happiness and only consoling themselves temporarily with a dissolute un-Christian life.
Even so, I trust that as the joyful feast days of the Nativity and Epiphany fill the hearts of the faithful, and despite our sinful existence, the joyous rays of Christian hope will once again shine through the fog of our many passions that “though we have sinned, we have not departed from You.” May all the events connected with the Star of Bethlehem which obtain our pardon once again stir in our hearts and in our thoughts especially now, when we can hope that our entire flock abroad will glorify the Newborn Savior with one mouth and one heart. Such a desire inspires us to call upon those Russian clerics who departed from us earlier and resolve to unite all of us in one Church Abroad with one common episcopate. Such a joining is occurring in fact in America, but in Western Europe, we must still wait for it to take place, as the abolishment of the Constantinople exarchate must come first. Without this, a complete unity of church life may not occur there. We are confident that this unity will occur by the will of God, not as a reward for our sins, but with mercy on us by His grace.
Those present at the events in Bethlehem were not more worthy than us and still the Lord did not keep the joyous and holy consolation from them on that night.
That is why in the prayers sung in the church on this feast day of the Nativity of Christ, the Church repeatedly reminds us of the meaning of this glorious event in the salvation of mankind, the appearance of the Infant God on earth along with His Immaculate Mother and other witnesses of His blessed birth in a cave in Bethlehem. May the Merciful Lord allow us sinners along with the shepherds and His Immaculate Mother and venerable Joseph to praise His glory. “Make us on earth also worthy to hymn Thee with a pure heart.” Amen.
The Strength of a Religious Authority
On the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the repose of Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovskiy),
the second First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (1936 – 1964)
From the book
The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. 1918-1968. Edited by Count A.A. Sollogub.
In 2 vols. Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem. New York: Rausen Language Division. 1968. Т. 1: 200-205
(Continued from The Sower No. 1, Issue 4 – OctoberNovember 2010)
From 1921 to 1934, Bishop Anastassy tended to the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, which found itself in a state of dire need in 1920. After the sudden death of the head of the Mission, it was discovered to be deep in debt, as much property had been bought in anticipation of an influx of believers from Russia. The Revolution had shattered these plans and urgent steps had to be taken to save the Mission. The Supreme Church Administration in Constantinople decided to empower the Most Reverend Anastassy and send him to Palestine to take “all necessary means to resolve the church, civil, property and all other matters of the Mission.” Bishop Anastassy handled this difficult task with great aplomb. Palestine was administered by England after World War I and Bishop Anastassy was able to retain the Mission’s property, even renting out its buildings to various British offices.
During those years, when the Most Reverend Anastassy headed the Russian Mission, a Russian Orthodox monastery was established in a church built by the children of Empress Maria Feodorovna and dedicated to their mother’s protectress, St. Mary Magdalene Equal-to-the-Apostles. The future abbess of the new monastery was baptized into Orthodoxy and later tonsured as a monastic with the name Maria by Bishop Anastassy. He did the same also for the future head of the children’s school in Bethany, giving her the name of Martha. While Bishop Anastassy was in Jerusalem, the relics of Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna and Nun Barbara were brought from China to the Church of Mary Magdalene.
Despite his many various duties in Jerusalem, the Most Reverend Anastassy traveled to Sremski Karlovci each year to attend the ROCA Synod of Bishops. He also went to France to participate in talks to resolve church matters there.
In July of 1936, Bishop Anastassy was elected First Hierarch of the ROCOR and he convened the 2nd All-Diaspora Council in 1938. After relocating the Synod to Belgrade, His Eminence established a special Academic theological committee, various missionary courses and religious youth groups. During the horrific bombings of Belgrade during 1941, the city was almost completely destroyed and left only to its inhabitants, yet the Russian Church continued its usual activities – services were held, memorial services and molebens were conducted, thanksgiving services to the Mother of God were held before the Kursk Root Icon and Metropolitan Anastassy remained in his place in the altar. When a patriarch was selected in Moscow in 1943, Metropolitan Anastassy convened a meeting in Vienna of eight diaspora bishops at which they ruled the election to be uncanonical and Patriarch Sergius occupation of the office to be unlawful.
In 1944, the Synod of the Church Abroad, headed by Metropolitan Anastassy, along with a large portion of the flock fled to Germany through Austria. Metropolitan Anastassy insisted that the Kursk Miracle-working icon leave Belgrade with the Synod, despite the attempts of several priests who had given in to Soviet propaganda to hold on to the Hodigitria in anticipation of the “rescuing Red Army.” In April, 1945, Metropolitan Anastassy and his secretary were given two places in General Vlasov’s bus for a hurried evacuation to Fuessen, in the southern part of Bavaria, bringing the Kursk Root Icon with them. From there, the Synod was able to flee to Austria.
In April, 1946, at a council of diaspora bishops in Munich, it was decided to commemorate the many anniversaries of Metropolitan Anastassy – his 50 years as a cleric, 40 years as a bishop and 10 years as the head of the ROCOR, by awarding him the title of “His Beatitude,” and awarding the right to wear two panagias and a cross. Metropolitan Anastassy refused all these honors and during the celebration of these anniversaries, he remained in seclusion in a monastery. In 1956, already in America, an attempt was made to once again organize an anniversary committee to honor the distinguished bishop, but he declined all offers. Only in 1964, when Metropolitan Anastassy relinquished his position, did he agree to accept the title of “His Beatitude” and to wear two panagias.
Let us turn to a short retelling of a recollection of Archbishop Seraphim (Leonid Georgiyevich Ivanov, 1897 – 1987) regarding one of the most important and critical moments in the history of the Russian Church Abroad – the summer and autumn of 1945.
World War II was raging. Germany was in ruins. The USSR was at the height of its notoriety and glory. After all, the victor cannot be judged. The West was cowed and deferential. It can be said that Europe was at the feet of the Bolsheviks. If they wanted to, the USSR could have taken Europe. Yet something held them back. Their Saracens crept throughout Europe, liquidating or kidnapping the more prominent anti-communists (Vlasov was repatriated in Lienz). Everyone was frightened of them and was in a state of fear and panic. A dreadful time.
The Russian Church Abroad experienced a grave crisis. The fate of the Synod was unknown for many months. During that time, Bolshevik agents spread rumors that the Synod Chairman, Metropolitan Anastassy, was either killed during the bombing raids, or taken to Munich, where he recognized the Soviet Patriarch.
Many began to believe that the Soviet regime had evolved. After all, there were marshals, generals and colonels with uniforms that reminded one of czarist times with medals of the Order of Alexander Nevsky, Suvorov and Kutuzov, and even a “Holy Patriarch of All Russia” at the behest of Stalin. The entire Slavic world could unite under the aegis of Moscow. The émigrés could obtain full amnesty and were being called back to the Homeland, which offered its motherly embrace to its wayward children. One could understandably lose one’s head.
The circles of Russians abroad were aflutter. The anti-communists, with rare exception, were hidden away and afraid to speak out. Befuddlement overtook even Russian church groups. Metropolitan Evlogy acknowledged the Moscow Patriarch, left the Greek jurisdiction, accepted a Soviet passport and publicly declared his intent to return to Russia. Sadly, our Metropolitan Seraphim of Paris followed his lead, though he had sharply spoken out against the communists earlier. Soviet agents intimated that if he did not accept the Moscow Patriarch, he would be brought to trial as a war criminal.
Having surrendered to the communists, Metropolitan Seraphim sent out a ukase to all church groups under and outside of his authority announcing his subordination to Moscow and demanding that everyone follow him and commemorate the Moscow Patriarch during church services. Metropolitan Theophilus in North America also issued a ukase to commemorate the Patriarch. No similar actions were taken in South America or in the Far East.
At this time our monastic brotherhood of St. Job of Pochaev was able to leave Germany and settle in Geneva. As we were nearing the Swiss border we were relieved to learn that Metropolitan Anastassy was alive and was in the German city of Fuessen with the Kursk Miracle-working Icon. Since we were far from that city, we were not able to go there. Instead, we sent a messenger on a bicycle to our First Hierarch with a letter and some foodstuffs. The items and the bicycle were stolen from our messenger along the way, but the letter did reach Metropolitan Anastassy and he learned we were alive and on our way to Switzerland.
After we arrived in Geneva, we wrote to all the Russian church centers that Metropolitan Anastassy was alive and in Germany. This news invigorated and gladdened many. In part, after receiving this good news, Archimandrite Anthony, the head of our church mission in Jerusalem found the strength to rebuff the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Soviet Patriarch who had arrived there and had promised him the rank of metropolitan if the mission were to go over to the Moscow jurisdiction.
The same thing happened in Shanghai. They had already begun commemorating the Moscow Patriarch, because Bolshevik agents were able to convince the Orthodox clergy that Metropolitan Anastassy was in Moscow and had accepted the Patriarch. As soon as our news arrived from Geneva, everything was returned back to normal.
Together with the rector of the church in Geneva, now known as Bishop Leontiy, we began in earnest to work on obtaining a visa for Metropolitan Anastassy to come to Switzerland. With God’s help, all obstacles were overcome and two days before the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in 1945, Metropolitan Anastassy arrived to our great joy in Geneva with the Kursk Miracle-working Icon.
Metropolitan Anastassy used his time in Geneva, approximately six months, to consolidate the status of the Russian Church Abroad. It was easy for him to communicate with the free world from Switzerland, which was not possible from Germany at that time.
Metropolitan Anastassy sent telegrams and letters to all the bishops of our Church Abroad informing them that the Synod of Bishops exists and is currently in Germany and has been joined by the bishops of the Ukrainian Autonomous Church, headed by Archbishop Panteleimon, and the Belarus Church, headed by Metropolitan Panteleimon. The letters also stated that the Synod had not accepted the Soviet Patriarch and therefore there cannot be any discussion of recognizing his authority or commemorating him during services. This had a sobering effect on many.
Wondrous are the ways of the Lord. Without any help from the powerful of this world, this frail elder who was completely penniless and under the constant threat of being asked to leave Switzerland, and more dangerously, who was under the constant threat of being killed by the Soviet chekists, practically singlehandedly re-established the Russian Church Abroad. Only by the strength of his great spiritual authority was Metropolitan Anastassy able to shatter the schemes of the Moscow Patriarchate, which was being supported by the formidable apparatus of the Soviet regime in the form of its diplomatic representatives and secret agents.
The words are true, “God’s strength is made perfect in weakness,” and our mighty Father Metropolitan Anastassy may boldly proclaim along with Apostle Paul, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13).
The New Kursk Root Hermitage, 1956