He Who Conquered with Love (In memory of Metropolitan Laurus)

Suddenly I felt “it was good for me to be there”, my heart started singing with joy, feeling peaceful. At the same time I realized that the reason and the source of this joy was this laconic old man sitting across the table. I felt this spiritual joy the whole day. I’d been at church meals lots of times, but I had never before, nor anytime after, felt anything of the kind. On this very day it became clear to me that Vladyka Laurus was not an ordinary man, but a man who carried in him the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Reader Alexey Axyonov | 15 March 2009

Translated by Olga Lissenkova

 

 

 

 

I was not a close acquaintance of Metropolitan Laurus. I only met him a few times in those fifteen years. Many people could claim more rights to speak about him. But the duty of love and memory urges me to share what I remember and what I think of this unusual man.

 

The first time I met Metropolitan Laurus was in Jordanville in 1993 at the patronal feast of Pentecost. My neophyte zeal was pushing me then to quit university and to enter Holy Trinity Theological Seminary. On my way back from the church I discussed it with Vladyka Laurus. He said I was to finish my study at the university. “But this is a Godless establishment,” I said. He advised me not to listen to what was ‘godless,’ and to listen only to what was useful. It was the end of our discussion.

 

I should say that at the first meeting Vladyka Laurus did not impress me as anyone special. It was the same during our second meeting that took place in Moscow in 1996 as he was celebrating St. Michael the Archangel’s day in our ROCOR church in Kitai-gorod. There was nothing imposing about his appearance, his manner or his speech. Compared to such prominent hierarchs as Metropolitan Vitaly and Archbishop Antony of Geneva who were in good health then, and others who were gone, Vladyka Laurus did not seem to be impressive enough. But I remember the words of the old woman who owned the flat where our church was situated, “This is a man who has a heart.”

 

There were references from other members of our half-underground Moscow community of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR). The church was situated at the building of a private school then. After a visit and service of Vladyka Laurus, a very high-principled parishioner lamented the spiritual decline of ROCOR, whose archbishops were ‘preaching no better than village priests.’ I did not argue with such a definition then, but I did not feel this was an undoubted sign of any decline. (Later, when I started to read the epistles of the Metropolitan regularly, I found in them a special quality of his word that can metaphorically be called ‘light-bearing.’ This quality makes Metropolitan Laurus’s sermons akin to the homilies of St. John of Shanghai which, though simple enough, shine with gentle spiritual light.)

 

But I ‘discovered’ who Metropolitan Laurus was only the next time I saw him, in early autumn of 1998 or 1999. After the liturgy that took place in the church of the Martyr Tsar Nikolai under Podolsk I exchanged a few phrases with Vladyka. He asked if I missed America. I said that I did not miss America itself but that I missed some people I had known there. In reply to this Vladyka gave me a light embrace. It seemed, though, that he wished to embrace and fondle everyone, he radiated benevolence. I also noticed that while talking to someone he often puts his hand on the interlocutor’s elbow in a confiding manner, thus showing his favor.

 

Later we had a meal in the owner’s house (the church was situated in a private estate). The talk was disjointed, and Vladyka said little. Suddenly I felt “it was good for me to be there”, my heart started singing with joy, feeling peaceful. At the same time I realized that the reason and the source of this joy was this laconic old man sitting across the table. I felt this spiritual joy the whole day. I’d been at church meals lots of times, but I had never before, nor anytime after, felt anything of the kind. On this very day it became clear to me that Vladyka Laurus was not an ordinary man, but a man who carried in him the grace of the Holy Spirit.

 

After this, the great love for Vladyka Laurus that I had noticed some other people felt became understandable. Before, I had thought it to be an exaggerated bias in favor of a venerable member of higher orders of clergy, maybe in favor of their common position in the questions of church politics. In reality it was the opposite: Metropolitan Laurus attracted people not with his ideas, but with his heart, and this is the reason why his ‘politics’ finally appeared acceptable to so many people who had rejected it for its ideas. It was the case with me. I felt Metropolitan Laurus to be a truly Orthodox person, and the personal trust I felt for him let me stay with him, stay with the church, despite the ideological aversion I had to the conditions of the unification that took place. If I can generalize here, I might say that without Metropolitan Laurus there would have been no unification of the Church Outside of Russia with the Moscow Patriarchate up to this day.

 

It is undeniable that Metropolitan Laurus himself had worked a spiritual labor within his soul to achieve this. And this spiritual labor would have been impossible without his outer exploit of his annual visits to Russia to get acquainted with its church life. I think that the primary moving force of this exploit was his love of Russia, but its consequences appeared to be decisive for the fate of the whole Russian church.

 

In the diasporic church press of the early 90s, one can find the musings of Metropolitan Laurus on the Moscow Patriarchate, characteristic of the right wing of the ROCOR. But after Vladyka Laurus walked all over Russia “like a slave,” he saw at first hand that those whom he had called ‘the KGB agents’ were leading many Russians to salvation, that under their guidance God’s work was being done. And so, Vladyka Laurus started acting according to this spiritual reality, not according his own opinion he had voiced twenty years before.

 

 

Upon the whole, realism and practical common sense seem to be in Vladyka Laurus’ nature. He was not a thinker, an ideologist, but he was a monk and a man of prayer. His life was less in the ideal sphere, and more in the middle of immediate spiritual battle. I guess this is the reason why he never accepted the notions of the ‘white’ and the ‘red’ church. He knew only one Church, the Church of Jesus Christ, and the unification with the Moscow Patriarchate was quite natural for him as soon as he saw Christ there.

 

But obviously it was not such an easy decision for him. He was not only a monk but also a pastor, and he was responsible for many people who mistook their provincial prejudices for dogmas, and the voice of passion for godly zeal. Was it not for them that he prayed tearfully in the altar of Sretensky Monastery’s temple on the eve of the unification? The beginning of his journey as First Hierarch was marked with the painful grief of schism; he could not but foresee new dissents. But it is doubtless that he was governed with deep belief in the spiritual benefit of the unification and in the harmfulness of further delay in this issue, despite the inevitable number of those who were offended. Here we see the tragedy of pastorship, probably the only tragic situation one can find in Christianity: the departure of one’s close people “for a distant country.”

 

And now those who he cried for abuse him and say things they should not. It testifies only to the fact that he had fulfilled God’s will and by this wounded the enemy. There’s no other explanation why he who was a meek and good-natured man aroused such hostility. As early as 1976 Father Seraphim (Rose) wrote about him, ‘he is so guileless, and has so many fierce enemies!’ It means that Vladyka Laurus had long been familiar with spiritual battle.

 

With this, he never laid claim to the pretension of any special spirituality. Those who want to find in him the outer signs of the spiritual gifts can be disappointed. Let’s look, for example, at the statement he had written in his diary a few hours before he died – it would seem to be the right time for a spiritual person, for the head of a church to say something oracular, testamentary, something significant. But this is what Vladyka Laurus wrote, ‘O Lord, bless this day for me to get well, for me to go back to my duties at the monastery.’ The man just worries about his daily routine, it seems he does not even feel the immediate proximity of eternity. And the Lord seems not to have granted his wish, as he was never to go back to his responsibilities. But for some reason, this simple and very ‘human’ entry touches everyone. Especially if we suppose that the Lord did bless this day of Vladyka Laurus, as He made it a day without a night, and that Vladyka did go back to his main monastic duty, praying for the whole world.

 

However, in his earthy life Vladyka Laurus would often ask others to pray for him. It was clear those requests were not formal, they were sincere and came from his heart; it was clear that he, being a monk and a member of higher orders of clergy, did really feel the need in our prayers for him. Generally, Vladyka never did anything formally, never played any role, never posed, never fussed. Looking at his photographs, we see that he always remained true to himself, that he had overcome the inner split of the sinful human state, he had reached wholeness, chastity, spiritual simplicity. It is a good lesson just to look at such a person.

 

My last private meeting with Metropolitan Laurus took place on May the 15th, 2004, during his first official visit to Russia. Having attended the liturgy in Butovo in the morning, in the evening he came to Podolsk to meet the clergy of the ROCOR. The first thing Vladyka did was to enter the church and examine its restored decoration. When it was my turn for a blessing and I approached him, Metropolitan Laurus called me by the name. I was somewhat surprised, as we had met last about six years before, and my humble position in the clergy would not give cause for being remembered by the First-hierarch.

 

Then he went into the house, sat down in the hall on a leather sofa and said a few words to those present. There were journalists and some other people we did not know, and there were a few members of our ROCOR community present as a minority. The very first words of Metropolitan Laurus made me sad. What he said was that “in 1994 the Bishop’s Council in Lesna had made a decision to start drawing close with the Moscow Patriarchate, and Archbishop Mark had had several meetings already. But Metropolitan Vitaly put a stop to this. Later they took away our property in the Holy Land, and we realized the need for a compromise.” It appeared that the Church Outside Russia agreed to unify with the Moscow Patriarchate under pressure, under the threat of losing its property, having to abandon its high principles. It was something we did not want to believe, but it was impossible not to believe it after the Metropolitan had said this. The Metropolitan said this into several microphones, so it is recorded by them.

 

I was struck with Metropolitan Laurus’s openness. He was really not a diplomat, not a politician. He did not conceal anything, he led no ‘double game,’ he never strove to flatter or oblige anyone. This is why he would sometimes make statements that could shock some listeners. This was not the only case it happened so, one can remember his statement in Kursk that he ‘did not belong’ to the old emigration. But there was something disarming in this openness. If such a person as Vladyka Laurus openly admits his weakness but still follows this way, it means there is no other way.

 

It has become obvious by now that the forcedness of the unification that Metropolitan Laurus voiced then urbi et orbi is only a part of the general picture. It’s a real and true part of it, but it’s only one of the constituents of the complex process. The Metropolitan acted judging by the whole picture where every part took its proper place. This was the difference between his Orthodox seeing and sectarian spiritual optics that pushes forward one certain part that is supposed to be central. Metropolitan Laurus clearly saw the correlation between the earthy and the heavenly, and this is why at the time God appointed he led the Church Outside of Russia to the spiritual victory, to the ‘triumph of Orthodoxy.’

 

This triumph is designated with the words ‘love’ and ‘humility.’ Throughout its whole history, the Russian Church Outside of Russia had been blamed for lack of love for Russia, and pharisaic vanity. These reproaches had always been unjust. And in 2004 in the Russian church and media space there appeared a man who embodied the Russian Church Abroad (as he was its First-hierarch), and at the same time he personified the virtues of love and humility, as he was a real Christian and monk. For all his life Metropolitan Laurus belonged to the Russian Church Abroad, he was her own child, “a beautiful fruit” “of the sowing of her salvation.” And he revealed to Russia the real face of the Church Outside of Russia, its spiritual power, its truth. This power and truth did not show in what we, its high-principled members, thought it to be and valued so much. It was not in its unbending principles, not in keeping one’s chasubles clean, nor in loud condemnation of unrighteousness. No, it showed differently – it was in the broadness of mind and heart, in love, indulgence, humility, silence, prayer. These are the rays Metropolitan Laurus shone with, and these are the means by which he won Russia. He did not win it to the Church Outside of Russia, but he won it for genuine Orthodoxy.

 

  

April 2008, Moscow

 

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