¹56 (219) April, 2007
"LIKE ONE OF THE ANCIENTS"
The Biography of Metropolitan Vitaly Ustinov
Childhood and Youth: the First Trials
Departure from the World and the Beginning of Serving the Church in Ladomirovo
The Struggle for Russian Souls in Germany and England
"For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest." - Brazil
The Canadian See. Important Landmarks in the History of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
The First Hierarch: A Leader and Prophet
The Cross of the Metropolitan
On September 12/25, 2006, in Canada, Metropolitan Vitaly (Ustinov) reposed in the Lord, having served as the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad from 1986 to 2001.
Vladika Vitaly lived on earth for almost an entire century, with only four years remaining until his one hundredth birthday. The year of Metropolitan Vitaly's repose was a noteworthy one: 65 years as a clergyman, 55 years as a hierarch, and 20 years of service as the First Hierarch. At the time of his death Vladika was one of the most senior hierarchs, not only of the Russian Church, but of the entire Orthodox Church
All of the upheavals of the stormy 20th century were reflected in the life of Metropolitan Vitaly-he was a child of the times, stoically and courageously bearing the cross of a servant of Christ. The atheistic revolution of 1917, the violent loss of a homeland, the hardships of life in the emigration, the struggle against atheism, the fight against the forced repatriation of Russian refugees from among the displaced persons, missionary work in the West, the voice of truth addressed to the Russian people-all of this, and much more, which we will speak of later, became landmarks in the life of Vladika Vitaly.
We would like to begin our brief biography of the Metropolitan with the words of the present First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Laurus, addressed to Vladika Vitaly in 2001, on behalf of the brotherhood of Jordanville: "In 1938, you joined our Printing Brotherhood, located at that time in Carpatho Rus', in Slovakia, in the village of Ladomirovo. Within a few years the Church hierarchy summoned you to serve the Church far away from our brotherhood. But wherever you may have been-in Germany, England, Brazil, or Canada-everywhere you strove to fulfill the legacy of the founder of our brotherhood, Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko). Everywhere you established print shops and brought to the people the word of truth, in Russian, English, and French. You always remembered our printing brotherhood with love, and we humbly considered and consider Your Eminence to be a member of our brotherhood" (Pravoslavnaia Rus', No.8, 2001, Jordanville).
Childhood and Youth: the First Trials
Metropolitan Vitaly (in the world, Rostislav Petrovich Ustinov), was born in 1910, in St. Petersburg, into the family of the naval officer, Peter, and the daughter of a high ranking police officer, Lydia. Shortly afterwards the family moved to Sebastopol. There Rostislav spent the first years of his life. This is what Vladika Vitaly later recalled of these times, and likewise of the changes leading to the revolution: "I saw the end of Tsarist Russia…I remember it in detail, but mainly I remember its spirit…in Tsarist times everything was peaceful and pious. I remember going out into the garden and hearing the ringing of the church bells. How good and sweet it was to the soul, as if heaven had come down to earth, and one felt an incomprehensible and profound peace. I remember all of this not simply as a memory, but as a remembrance of the heart." "I remember an interesting incident… I remember exactly how grandmother took the newspaper and said the following words: 'This is the end of Russia!' On the front page in big letters it was written that the Sovereign had abdicated from the throne. I remember the unforgettable difference when the revolution broke out. Everything changed. Heaven changed. A mystical fear descended on everyone. Everyone lost their inner peace…" (Metropolitan Vitaly, "Anniversary Collection", USA, 2001).
Yes, that was the end of the Russian empire, but at the same time, for the best sons of Russia, this was the beginning of the battle for Holy Rus'!... In 1920 Rostislav enrolled in the Crimean Military School, founded by General Wrangel in Feodosii. In the same year, after the great exodus of the White Emigration from the homeland, Rostislav's family, after wandering through various countries finally settled in France. There Rostislav graduated from college and then fulfilled his military duties in the French army.
The natural talents of the young Rostislav were evident even in those years: the commander of the regiment promised his support in helping him to establish a military career. However, the young soldier, Rostislav Ustinov, having briefly experienced the stormy and dramatic life in the world, already had the burning desire to leave the vanity of the world and go to a monastery. A time of spiritual struggle began for him.
Departure from the World and the Beginning of Serving the Church in Ladomirovo
Despite the opposition of his family, in 1938, at the age of 28, Rostislav arrived at the monastery of St. Job of Pochaev in Slovakia. This monastery in the village of Ladomirovo was founded by Archimandrite Vitaly (Maximenko-later Archbishop), the head of the historic print shop of the Pochaev Lavra. Ladomirovo became an important missionary center, whose brotherhood later resettled in Jordanville, where they continued their missionary work.
In 1939 Rostislav was tonsured a rassaphore monk with the name Vitaly, partly in honor of his abba, the founder of the monastery, Vladika Vitaly (Maximenko), who at that time was already serving as a bishop in North America. During Great Lent, in 1940, the monk Vitaly was tonsured into the mantia by Archimandrite Seraphim (Ivanov), the superior of the monastery, and in the same year he was ordained a hierodeacon. In 1941, in the city of Bratislava, Metropolitan Seraphim of Berlin and Germany ordained Fr. Vitaly to the priesthood, and sent him to serve in two Slovakian villages: Porubku and Medvezhie.
Fr. Vitaly continued to live with the brotherhood in Ladomirovo, and on Saturday and Sunday he would go to serve in the villages assigned to him. For transportation he used a bicycle. At first Fr. Vitaly had the obedience of working in the kitchen at the monastery, and later he baked bread, and in the end he was made the typesetter in the print shop. The future metropolitan fulfilled the general monastic obedience of work in the garden, which included cleaning the manure from the latrines for fertilizing the soil.
Towards the end of the war, the brethren of the Monastery of St. Job of Pochaev were forced to leave Ladomirovo due to the approach of the Red Army. The brotherhood, in their work and in the printed word, always fearlessly renounced atheistic communism, so there was no doubt that with the approach of the Soviets, severe reprisals would follow. Several facts ominously testified to this: not long before the arrival of the Soviet Army into Slovakia, there appeared a drawing on the walls of the monastery of a hammer and sickle, a five-pointed star, and the words: "Padres (priests)-criminals!", "Death to the priest!", etc.
At this time a remarkable incident occurred. `When the brethren had already departed for Bratislava and were preparing to go farther west, several members of the brotherhood were worried about the fate of two young novices from the local Carpatho-Russian community-two Basils-who were left in Ladomirovo with their parents. There was an offering that they leave with the brotherhood since Fr. Vitaly decided to go on the feast of the Transfiguration to serve in the village of Medvezhie. On this trip he took the two novices. The boys had become attached to the brotherhood and loved monastic life, and therefore they joyfully agreed to go with him. These novices are now-the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Laurus, and the senior member of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, Archimandrite Flor.
The Struggle for Russian Souls in Germany and England
Fr. Vitaly initially arrived in Germany with the brotherhood in Berlin, and then went to Hamburg on his own. There the Church authorities assigned him to care for a multitude of refugees, DP's (displaced persons), in the camps of northern Germany. The largest one was in Fishbeck, built north of Hamburg through the labors of Hieromonk Vitaly and Archimandrite Nathaniel (later bishop of Vienna).
For some years this camp was one of the centers of Russian Orthodox life in Europe. Many future clergymen of the Russian Church Abroad came from there. There was a Dormition Church located in the camp, and Fr. Vitaly was the senior priest. In general he was a key figure in Fishbeck. Eyewitnesses recall the future metropolitan riding here and there on his motorcycle to perform his various duties, with the veil of his klobuk flapping in the wind. Many Russians were indebted to Fr. Vitaly for saving their lives. One must note that this period of life of Fr. Vitaly, fraught with danger and an uncompromising battle against the intrigues of the Soviets, left an indelible stamp on his position in life.
In 1947, the "DP's" began to emigrate to various countries, and therefore Archimandrite Vitaly was assigned by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad to a new place of service-England. While rector of the parish in London, the tireless missionary traveled throughout all of England: he brought those people to Orthodoxy who were searching for the truth, he organized parishes, in particular, in the cities of Manchester, Preston, and Bradford.
Later, speaking about his experience in missionary activity, including in England, Vladika Vitaly wrote: "I am personally convinced that our mission in the Diaspora is not just to care for our Russian people, to protect them from denationalization, but also to do some missionary work among the heterodox. I have an inner striving to do missionary work among people of other nationalities. During our time in London we were able to bring about ten Englishmen to Orthodoxy, which seems like a small number, but all of them became sincere Orthodox people. The best of them translated the abbreviated "Philokalia" into English. [He is speaking about the well known translator and missionary among the English, Archimandrite Lazarus Moore.] In these years we worked out a good system for missionary work. We traveled all the time, staying in one place or another for a longer period, but knowing the great weakness and the proclivity of a person to fall, we spent most of our time in the communal life, in which we are saved, like a clam, from the predators of our passions. In short, we were used to living among the people, but at the same time we led a monastic manner of life." (Metropolitan Vitaly, "Anniversary Collection," USA, 2001.)
"For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest." - Brazil
On the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in 1951, in London, Archimandrite Vitaly was consecrated bishop of Montevideo, and was sent to Brazil as a vicar to Archbishop Theodosy, living at that time in Sao Paolo. Bishops Nathaniel of Vienna and Leonty of Geneva participated in the consecration of Vladika Vitaly.
The newly consecrated hierarch understood what difficulties he was facing. At the service where Vladika was named to be a bishop, he said: "The Lord is calling me to serve in the apostolic rank of His Holy Church. But in what conditions She is living!... The world, in which the Orthodox Church is now living like an orphan, has lost its spiritual virginity. False teachers and false christs have scattered throughout the whole world and preached Christ according to their own false teaching, so that there is left only the name of the Saviour, with which they cloak their invented Christ, and in our zeal we almost rightfully cry out: 'It would have been better if they had never known about Christ,' for it is easier to teach than to re-teach. These are the difficulties that face the hierarchy of the Russian Church Abroad. And on this episcopal way of the cross I also am embarking. I need much help, and especially the Grace of God, the grace of wisdom and understanding, which will help me to develop in my soul a broad field, from maximum condescension to unbending martyrdom. Pray for me, most reverend hierarchs, and you, Christ-loving Orthodox people, that the Lord fill me with these spiritual riches. This is our shared work"(Metropolitan Vitaly, "Anniversary Collection," USA, 2001).
Bishop Vitaly settled in a suburb of Sao Paolo, a place called Villa Alpina. There he established a monastic brotherhood and continued the printing work of the St. Job Monastery in Ladomirovo. At the same time, the printing work of the Ladomirovo brotherhood was also continued in Munich and Jordanville.
As a new fruit of the missionary activity, Vladika Vitaly started the magazine, Pravoslavnoye Obozrenie(Orthodox Review), the first issue published in Brazil in 1951. The magazine continued to be published for a few decades. The magazine contained very interesting articles, among which were articles and homilies by Vladika Vitaly himself.
The aim and purpose of the magazine were formulated by Vladika Vitaly (this text was printed in each issue): "The stated purpose of our magazine is to revive the ancient Orthodox world-view of the Holy Fathers, presenting an Orthodox perspective of the latest contemporary affairs and events. From the time of Peter the Great our Orthodox schooling and educated society has fallen under the influence of Protestant and Roman thought, from which until now we still have not been freed. Such a division and attitude in our ideology has very much weakened our moral powers. We have lost our spiritual integrity, our sense of purpose, and worst of all, with such a half-scholastic, splintered world-view, it is impossible to lead anyone else.
We have often cried out to heaven with the words of the Prophet David: Save me, O Lord, for a righteous man there is no more, because we have heartfeltly acknowledged that we have no leader or prophet. But a leader or prophet is nourished by deep thought and profound faith in that thought. No one will follow if a person himself does not believe that the Orthodox Church is the one and only truth and that there is no other Church of Christ on earth.
We especially fear for our younger generation, which is sinking more and more into a state of some kind of deep sleep. Now one cannot simply speak and preach to the youth that they must pray and fast, and repeat eternal truths according to the scholastic textbooks. It is essential to show why and how all this should be done in contemporary conditions" (Pravoslavnoye Obozrenie, No. 60, March 1985, Canada.).
In Brazil Vladika cared for new Russian immigrants, established Russian schools and parishes; in particular, through the labors of his brotherhood, parishes were founded in the city of Goiania and Pedreira, a suburb of Sao Paolo.
The Canadian See. Important Landmarks in the History of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
In 1955, Bishop Vitaly, along with his monastic brotherhood, was transferred to Canada, to the city of Edmonton, from where he ruled the western part of Canada. Later he was assigned to Montreal and elevated to the rank of Archbishop of Montreal and Canada. His many-sided archpastoral work continued. Through the labors of Vladika Vitaly new parishes were established in Montreal and Ottawa.
In Canada Vladika Vitaly labored to spread monasticism: he founded the Dormition Skete near Granada, and the Transfiguration Skete on the outskirts of Mansonville, and the Hierarchal residence in Montreal was itself a monastic community.
The missionary publishing work also continued. Besides the magazine, Pravoslavnoye Obozrenie, Vladika and the brotherhood published spiritual books and brochures, and church service books, which were distributed not only in the diaspora, but which also penetrated the iron curtain to enslaved Russia.
At his position in guiding the Canadian diocese, Vladika Vitaly faced an event that was auspicious, not only for the diaspora and for Russia, but for the whole world. That is, the glorification of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia and the Holy Royal Martyrs, which took place in New York on November 1, 1981. The future metropolitan, as well as all the hierarchs of the Church Abroad, considered this event to be epoch-making, for the glorification of the choir of New Martyrs by the earthly Church could not but have a response from these saints in Heaven at the throne of God! This may have been the turning point in the resurrection of Orthodox Russia.
Within a year there followed a clear sign of the mercy of God-the appearance of the miraculous Myrrh-streaming Iveron Icon of the Theotokos in Montreal. The abundant flow of myrrh from the icon in the course of 15 years was a precursor of the good changes that would take place in the homeland-the freeing of the Orthodox Church from the yoke of the Godless authorities and the beginning of the spiritual rebirth of the Russian people. Throughout the course of the 15 years, until the martyric death of the guardian of the icon, Brother Jose Munos, and the disappearance of the icon in 1997, Br. Joseph was in obedience to Metropolitan Vitaly. Moreover, it was namely Vladika Vitaly, being the Archbishop of Montreal and Canada, who witnessed to the miraculous appearance of the new Myrrh-streaming icon of the Theotokos.
Br. Jose recalled that soon after the icon began to stream myrrh, Vladika "learned of the miracle and sent word that we were to come to the monastery [in Mansonville]. When we arrived at the monastery with the icon, wrapped in cloth which was soaked with myrrh, Vladika first of all took cotton and wiped the icon dry, thereby taking all the myrrh that was on the icon. Then he took the icon and carried it through all the rooms of the three-storey monastery house. When he returned to the church, the icon was again covered with myrrh, which flowed from the hands of Vladika. He bowed down before the icon and said that a great miracle was taking place"(The Montreal Myrrh-streaming Icon and Br. Joseph, Montreal-Moscow, 2003)
Vladika Vitaly always considered himself responsible for the icon and its faithful guardian, Br. Jose. "Archbishop Vitaly, having become metropolitan in 1986, very often called upon Br. Jose to accompany him in his travels throughout the diocese, and also to parishes in various parts of the world, where the icon was requested. Br. Jose became then a novice and practically a cell attendant of Vladika….Everyone first asked Vladika for a blessing for the icon to visit. Later, because the metropolitan was living far away in New York, and since they had less contact, Br. Jose received from him a blessing to make his own schedule for travel for the whole year" (The Montreal Myrrh-streaming Icon and Br. Joseph, Montreal-Moscow, 2003).
We must mention another act of the Russian Church Abroad, important for all Orthodox people, in which Vladika Vitaly played an active role in preparations, namely, declaring the anathema against the false teaching of ecumenism. Already at the Bishops' Council in 1967, Vladika Vitaly delivered a ground-breaking report, revealing the danger of the ecumenical movement. This report became a classic anti-ecumenical document, to this day used as a great authority by believers both in Russia and abroad.
Providentially, the Hierarchal Council of Russian Orthodox Church Abroad convened in Mansonville in 1983 and officially condemned ecumenism. While explaining later the idea of the anathema against ecumenism, Vladika Vitaly emphasized that its main purpose was to protect the flock of the Russian Church Abroad from false teaching, and not for other jurisdictions, although the subject of ecumenism is on the agenda of all the Orthodox.
In particular, Vladika Vitaly wrote: "It is now already 100 years since ecumenism first began its assault on the one true Church of Christ…From the Orthodox point of view a massive amount of literature has accumulated which denounces ecumenism as the heresy of heresies… In all probability, the time for polemics has passed, and it is now time to condemn it…Our Council in 1983 condemned ecumenism and declared it anathema with the following text: 'Those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ's Church is divided into so-called "branches" which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all "branches" or sects or denominations, and even religions will be united into one body; and who do not distinguish the priesthood and the mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; and therefore, to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or who advocate, disseminate, or defend their new heresy of Ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema!' In declaring anathema we are guarding our flock from apocalyptic temptations, and at the same time we have placed on the conscience of all the Local Orthodox Churches the serious duty which they must sooner or later decide, one way or the other… The position of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad is evident in the conscience of all Orthodox people. This is a great cross which the Lord has placed on us. But one can remain silent no longer, for further silence would be like a betrayal of the truth, from which may the Lord deliver us" (Pravoslavnaia Rus, No.10, 1984, Jordanville).
The First Hierarch: A Leader and Prophet
In 1985, the third First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Philaret, reposed in the Lord. This was a time when there was already felt in Russia a movement of the people towards Orthodoxy; there appeared new confessors of the faith, like New Martyr Boris Talantov (+1971), for example Vladimir Rusak and Alexander Ogorodnikov. The Soviet empire was living out its last years, and therefore the post of the first hierarch at this dramatic time had to be filled by an uncompromising spiritual leader firm in the faith. Therefore the Hierarchal Council approached this selection with all seriousness, and as a result, Vladika Vitaly became the only first hierarch in the history of Russian Orthodox Church Abroad to be chosen by lot.
This is how it is described in the "Epistle of the Council of Bishops to the Pastors and Flock," in 1986. "On 9/22 January, we assembled in New York for a Council of Bishops, to choose a First Hierarch for our Church,…to elect a modern-day apostle who might take up the cross of that ministry and follow after Christ with the flock. Preparing for the election, we acknowledged our responsibility in this matter not only to the flock in the diaspora, but also to the entire, much-suffering Church of Russia, to her contemporary martyrs and confessors; for on the strength of our freedom we are their hope and greatest help… This is why the election of a worthy hierarch of our Church from among the sixteen free Russian bishops was so critical. Cognizant of our unworthiness, we unanimously resolved to leave the matter to the will of God, to choose a metropolitan by lot…Thus also, by lot, was His Holiness Patriarch Tikhon chosen from among the three candidates proposed by the Pan-Russian Council of 1918…On the feast of the Hieromartyr Philip, Metropolitan of Moscow, after the divine liturgy, a pannykhida was served by the Council for the departed metropolitans of the Church Abroad, after which the session of the Council opened with a moleben before the wonderworking Kursk Icon of the Mother of God. Two candidates were proposed…The names of both candidates were then placed on the icon of the Mother of God. Archimandrite Gelasy, a pious elder, having taken a blessing from the senior hierarch, Archbishop Seraphim, drew forth the lot which bore the name of Archbishop Vitaly of Montreal and Canada. And thus the will of God was made evident to us" (Pravoslavnaya Rus, No.2, 1986, Jordanville).
One of the senior hierarchs, Archbishop Anthony (Bartoshevich), addressed the new metropolitan on behalf of all the Church Abroad: "Our beloved archpastor! The Lord has placed you on the apostolic throne in a difficult time and at a crucial moment in the life of our Church…Remember, Vladika, that you are the only first hierarch of the Church in our evil time who is freely chosen, freely inducted, freely teaching, freely acting, and freely preaching the word of Christ's truth. May the Lord help you to carry this difficult cross of the episcopacy, not only for the Church Abroad, but for all the Russian Church, the cross of the Russian people, their martyrs and confessors, and to be their hope and joy!"
Metropolitan Vitaly zealously fulfilled the mandate given to him at his consecration. Having a genuine gift for preaching, he tirelessly raised his voice in defense of the persecuted Church in the homeland, denounced compromises in matters of faith, and called on people to be Christians not only in name, but also in life.
One must especially mention the attention paid by the Metropolitan to encouraging the use of the Jesus Prayer among the Orthodox people. He was a genuine apostle of hesychasm in our time. No matter about what he was speaking and to whom, Vladika Vitaly always turned to the subject of mental activity. It is significant that his first sermon after his consecration was dedicated to prayer of the heart. "If the prayer does not come from the heart," warned the archpastor, "you cannot call it prayer, they are only words; a person receives no benefit from such formal prayer."
During the time that Metropolitan Vitaly was the first hierarch there were two momentous events: the celebration of the 1000-year anniversary of the Baptism of Russia, and the fall of communism. Archbishop Anthony indicated to Metropolitan Vitaly the importance of the first event in his address to him right after his installment: "You will have to oversee the solemn 1000-year anniversary of the Baptism of our Fatherland. For 1000 years we have lived as Christians, which we must demonstrate not in words, but in deed. We must conduct this anniversary here so that it will also be an anniversary there, in the homeland. From here our enslaved brethren will hear the voice of the Russian Church, your voice, Vladika, as a hierarch of God."
This appeal proved to be justified, for in the homeland, on the eve of the celebration of 1000-year anniversary of the Baptism of Russia, Patriarch Pimen was forced to sign a letter, on October 17, 1987, marking the 70th anniversary of the communist revolution, thereby combining two opposing events-the acceptance of Christianity by the Russian people and the acceptance of the atheistic ideology of communism. Therefore, in congratulating the believers with the Baptism of Russia, the First Hierarch of Russian Orthodox Church Abroad rebuked atheism and the Soviet persecution of the Church at the same time.
The epistle of the Council of Bishops concerning the Baptism of Russia especially emphasized the unity of the people of the Russian Church, both in the homeland and in the diaspora, and with new strength praised the ideal of contemporary martyrdom for Christ: "Today the Church of Russia is, first of all, a vast sea of believers of our country, who are harassed and persecuted for the sake of Christ and His truth, pastors who have withdrawn into the catacombs of their hearts, fathers and mothers who are saving their children from atheism and unbelief by their prayers, children-confessors, all of them strong in their weakness, of whom today's world is not worthy. We believe that the hour is not far off when today's persecutors, like Julian the Apostate, will say to Christ: 'You have conquered me, O Galilean!' Then will the Church of Russia arise, cleansed by persecutions, washed in the blood of the martyrs, as the bride of Christ, all adorned in raiment inwoven with the inexpressible suffering of its faithful children, who cry out with the Apostle (John): 'This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our Faith!'"
The celebration of the thousand year Baptism of Russia came to be, as is well known, a kind of prologue to the new Baptism of Russia and the fall of the communist regime. Undoubtedly, on the spiritual plane, the return of the people to faith and the gradual rejection of the atheistic world-view were accomplished by the prayers of the new martyrs and confessors of Russia, glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1981.
While boldly denouncing communist ideology, Metropolitan Vitaly also emphasized that the character of the Western world-view was intimately related to the Soviet one. He wrote: "There can be no greater tragedy than to look at this world with its relatively feeble and sickly good as the ultimate goal of all creation…Humanism, socialism, communism, and in general, everything that is outside the Church, in their ideals and aspirations commit one principle sin, and only one: they all, without exception, base themselves, both materially and spiritually, on the earth. They have that what is transitory for that which is everlasting, they honor the shadow instead of that which casts the shadow, they stop where there is no terminus" (Nativity Epistle, 1987). And with inspiration Metropolitan Vitaly called on people to embrace the eternal and lofty evangelical ideals, but mainly-life according to the Gospel!
When the iron curtain fell, and when what earlier had seemed impossible became possible, Vladika Vitaly opened up to the Russian people with all his heart. He conducted a wide correspondence with believers in Russia. Priests, monastics and lay men, educated people and simple folk, young and old-they turned to him in letters and by telephone, and he answered them all as far as possible. Vladika generously sent spiritual literature and small icons to Russia, for in the beginning they had nothing there. The Metropolitan was approachable for the newly-arriving pilgrims and guests from Russia: he met them warmly and some of them literally did not depart for hours as they discussed the contemporary situation in Russia. There are known instances where people who had just arrived from Russia just "happened to stop by" the Synod church, and having listened to a sermon of Metropolitan Vitaly, remained in the Orthodox Church and became conscious believers.
It is amazing that Metropolitan Vitaly, unfortunately never being in Russia (after the fall of communism), was loved so much by the Russian people! This witnessed to by the fact that simple nuns would send their handiwork to him in New York, knitted things and wax candles, just like the widow's mite in the Gospel.
The first significant acquaintance that Russians had with the Russian Church Abroad, Jordanville, the Iveron icon from Montreal, and Metropolitan Vitaly himself was thanks to a documentary film by Director Vadim Vinogradov, called "Russian Mystery." Vadim Vinogradov came from Russia to make the film, and was able to show the spiritual treasures of the Church Abroad. They became acquainted with the words of Metropolitan Vitaly from this film, and that the Russian emigration-is not political, and not economical, but rather a religious, spiritual emigration! By God's providence, at the beginning of "Perestroika," the film "Russian Mystery" was widely broadcast on the main channels of Russian television, and even now it is occasionally broadcast.
Metropolitan Vitaly was an ardent supporter of opening Russian Orthodox Church Abroad parishes in Russia, decision that was made by the Hierarchal Council on May 2/15 1990 (Pravoslavnaia Rus', #12, 1990). Now, few consider, it was a wrong decision. However, for an unbiased observer it is clear, that such a step at that time was necessary and well timed. It should be noted, that the Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad would have never agreed to this if it weren't for a passionate appeal regarding this from Russia, and in fact from people within the Moscow Patriarchate itself. Supporters of the Russian Church Abroad in Russia represented people of culture, literature, history, social organizations, former political prisoners such as: V.Soloukhin, P.Palamarchuck, V.Poresh, V.Trostnikov, Z.Krahmalnikova, S.Krasovitsky , A.Antonov, V.Vinogradov, A.Nezhny, P.Protzenko, A.Ogorodnikov and others.
Russian parishes of the Church Abroad for the most part played a role of representatives, where one could meet with clergy and laymen from abroad, listen to them, receive literature that reflected the views from abroad, and simply come to a personal contact with various immigrants. It should also be pointed out that in the early nineties misunderstanding between hierarchy and laymen of Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and that off Russian Church of Moscow Patriarchate was very strong. The necessity and importance of recognizing one another was evident. The process of recognition could not have gone smoothly and free of mistakes from both sides, thus ?migr? parishes of the Church Abroad played an important role of rearguard taking fire upon them. Explanatory and pastoral work of Russian Orthodox Church Abroad clergymen in Russia such as Lev Lebedev, yielded good fruit, for a sobering word of bitter truth is better than sweet lies. Vladyka Vitaly patronized such clergymen in Russia, while comforting and encouraging them in their difficult path. Speaking of important events, we must note that during the time of Metropolitan Vitaly the 700th anniversary celebration of the Kursk Root Icon of Our Lady of the Sign, the Directress of the Church Abroad took place in 1995, and the 50th anniversary of Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, in 1998. Noting the significance of the seminary and the purpose of the Jordanville theological school, Metropolitan Vitaly emphasized: "This is the school of correct thought, preparing priests and pastors who will teach you how to think correctly. Respect this school-it is a center from which flows proper thinking and that means a proper life."
Vladika Vitaly did many other good things; for example, he organized conferences for Orthodox youth and took an active part in them.
During the time that Vladika Vitaly was the First Hierarch a whole choir of saints was glorified. These were: the Optina Elders and St. Paissy Velichkovsky (1990), St. Innocent of Moscow and St. Nicholas of Japan (1994), St. Jonah of Hankow (1996), Hieromartyr Maxim Golitskii (1998), St. Philaret of Moscow, St. Ignaty of the Caucasus, St. Theophan the Recluse, and Blessed Theophil of Kiev (2000).
Indisputably, a central place among the glorifications is occupied by the glorification of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco in 1994. At the glorification of St. John, Metropolitan Vitaly said: "We who hunger and thirst want to be satiated with Divine righteousness at the shrine of St. John. We have come to him with a feeling of deep gratitude that he, for all of us who are weak and infirm, has been granted entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. We always rejoice when someone manages to break away from the tenacious claws of the prince of this world and is granted eternal blessedness. Our gratitude to St. John is also mixed with a feeling of sincere repentance. You, Fr. John, have departed from our midst, and you know us and our main inconsolable sorrow-Russia! So help us!"
The Cross of the Metropolitan
We considered the heading of this chapter for quite some time, for we must now speak not only about the joys, but also about the sorrows… But knowing that the judgment of man is nothing compared to the judgment of God, and likewise that we cannot fully understand the judgments of God, we will now speak about the last years of Metropolitan Vitaly, asking forgiveness in advance for any subjectivity.
On the night of the blessed repose of Metropolitan Philaret, Br. Jose, always close to Vladika Vitaly, had a revelation from the miraculous Iveron icon. In the revelation it was revealed that the future First Hierarch, Metropolitan Vitaly, would have to endure sorrows, disparagement, and crucifixion.
The meaning of what Jose saw became evident much later. The beginning of the chain of events which occurred in the last years of Vladika Vitaly's life, turned out to be mysteriously connected with Jose and the myrrh-streaming Iveron icon.
It is sad, but when Br. Jose suffered his tragic death in 1997, Metropolitan Vitaly fell under the influence of foul rumors concerning the circumstances of his death, and therefore he decided to not serve a pannykhida for Jose. In "The Chronicles of the Home of the Icon" it says: "The terrible death of Br. Jose and the slander that immediately followed horrified everyone who knew him… at the end of liturgy, the Metropolitan, deeply affected by the rumors, refrained from mentioning in his sermon what had happened and did not serve a pannykhida."
Glory be to God, due to the fervent pleas of the workers of the "Home of the Icon," Metropolitan Vitaly blessed for the honorable remains of Br. Jose to be buried in Jordanville in the monastery cemetery. The Superior of the monastery, Vladika Laurus, received the honorable remains of the righteous one, and the funeral of Br. Jose took the form of a spontaneous glorification by all the people.
Unfortunately, this cold attitude toward Jose remained with Metropolitan Vitaly and some of those people around him even later. The Iveron icon was hidden away from us at the same time as the death of its guardian, Jose, and this fact remained unsolved and unmentioned by the first hierarch.
There are two more sad events. The first: in 1998 the Cathedral in Montreal burned to the ground. This had been the main location of the icon during services. The second: in that same year, on the 16th anniversary of the appearing of the myrrh-streaming icon, Metropolitan Vitaly fell, breaking his right arm. After this he could not fully perform hierarchal services, and for a long time he could not even cross himself. Sickness and the physical infirmity of Metropolitan Vitaly became one of the reasons for his retirement a few years later.
In the anniversary year of 2000, since the birth of Christ, Metropolitan Vitaly presided over the Bishops' Council of Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, and approved and signed the conciliar decision supporting the positive changes in the Moscow Patriarchate. In particular there was the approval of the glorification of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia, headed by the Royal New Martyrs. Likewise the hierarchs supported the acceptance by the Moscow Patriarchate of the new Social Conception, which, as was noted, essentially annuls the "Declaration" of Metropolitan Sergius in 1927. At the same time dissatisfaction was expressed that the official representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate attached to participation in the ecumenical movement and insufficiently vigilant in protecting their flock from this false teaching. At the same council it was decide to establish several commissions for examining the paths of the Russian Church in the past and in the future. The conciliar decision of the year 2000, signed by fifteen hierarchs, headed by Metropolitan Vitaly, to a significant degree determines the course of Russian Orthodox Church Abroad to this day.
At the Bishops' Council of Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 2000, headed by Metropolitan Vitaly, another important document was also approved-"An Appeal of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad to the Old-believers," in which was expressed regret for cruelty directed in the past toward followers of the "Old Rite", and likewise it called for a healing of this painful division. Such a move on the part of the hierarchs of the Church Abroad once again showed their concern for the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church as a pledge of the rebirth of Orthodox Russia.
On the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, in 2001, the Russian Church Abroad celebrated in honor of Metropolitan Vitaly three dates-60 years as a clergyman, 50 years as a hierarch, and 15 years as the First Hierarch.
At that time Vladika Vitaly gave a noteworthy talk, which might be considered to be his last testament before going into retirement: "In life I value two things-Orthodoxy and Russianness…Even in my youth I understood that Russian culture is not simply a culture, but a Christian culture…See the power of Orthodoxy. When they persecute us, we are given the chance to rise up, to give to the world new saints, new righteous ones… After the revolution in Russia we had so many martyrs. If we were to look at the new Russia we would see fiery pillars everywhere-these are the relics of the holy martyrs…So the devil always loses, no matter what he may contrive, no matter how he may try to destroy Orthodoxy, he always ends up losing. I wish you one thing: preserve the Orthodox faith in your heart, especially in your heart, not only in your mind. God gave us a mind. It is necessary for understanding the things of this world, but most of all we need strength of heart. Ask God that He give you this strength of heart, and heartfelt faith. Without the heart, there is nothing. Whatever plans you may devise on earth, if your heart is not in it, nothing will come of it…Be intelligent and be heartfelt and sincere."
At this celebration in honor of Metropolitan Vitaly, all of the hierarchs of the Russian Church Abroad were gathered. At that time no one knew that this celebration would be a farewell to the First Hierarch-elder, weary from all his labors.
In 2001, two anniversary collections were published dedicated to Metropolitan Vitaly, his articles and selections from his articles, sermons and letters. The first, a more substantial work, was published by the "Jubilee Fund," while the second was an issue of the magazine, Pravoslavnaia Zhizn (Orthodox Life, in Russian), (No.8, 2001, Jordanville).
At the summer session of the Bishops' Council in 2001, Metropolitan Vitaly, 91 years old at the time, announced his desire to retire. From that time, Archbishop Laurus, of Syracuse and Holy Trinity Monastery, fulfilled the duties of the deputy of the First Hierarch. In October of that year the Bishops' Council convened, presided over by Metropolitan Vitaly. There Vladika Vitaly delivered the following official announcement: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! Dear brother Hierarchs! In agreement with my announcement at the last session of the Bishops' Council of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad on June 27/July10, 2001, I now repeat before all of you, before the entire Council of Bishops, that I am retiring. I ask all of you fellow hierarchs for your holy prayers. I also pray for all of you, and now all together we will pray and implore the Chief Shepherd to help our Council of Bishops select a new first hierarch for our much suffering Russian Church Abroad. On my part, I call upon all of you to unite around the person we select and together strive to establish peace and unity among us and our flock. Only in unity do we have strength, and with God's help, will we be able to withstand all the intrigues of our enemies, visible and invisible. Amen. I ask for the holy prayers and forgiveness of all of you, dear brothers."
Then the Council of Bishops of Russian Orthodox Church Abroad choose a new, the fifth, First Hierarch of the Church, Metropolitan Laurus. We must impress the fact that it was Metropolitan Vitaly, namely, who played an important role in the life of his successor, Metropolitan Laurus, forty years earlier in Carpathia, as was mentioned earlier.
It would seem that we could end the story here, but unfortunately, Metropolitan Vitaly was to suffer indignity from those closest to him. And what, if not indignity, can one call the abduction of the Metropolitan from Synod headquarters, and the forcing of the infirm elder to renounce his voluntary retirement? They cloaked themselves in the name and authority of Metropolitan Vitaly until his very death, taking advantage of his elderly forgetfulness and absent-mindedness, bringing confusion and division to the Russian Church Abroad. One cannot but recall the prophecy of Br. Jose concerning the "cross of the Metropolitan."
Perhaps representatives of Russian Orthodox Church Abroad showed haste and made mistakes in trying to regularize the situation which arose. However, the hierarchs of Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, understanding the pitiful situation of Metropolitan Vitaly and feeling compassion for him, bore no malice against him personally, but always continued to consider the former first hierarch to be in retirement.
After the repose of Metropolitan Vitaly, Metropolitan Laurus summarized what had happened: "Vladika Metropolitan Vitaly, being in retirement, was separated from us, to our great sorrow, and one cannot say that this was voluntary, but due to those surrounding him. But nevertheless, we commemorated him in our churches as one who was ailing. And now, when his soul is in need of prayers, we call on all of our pastors and the flock to pray for his repose." (Synodal Website, Sept.26, 2006).
Metropolitan Vitaly was not sinless. Possibly some of his actions in his later years, and yes, some earlier ones, justifiably confused some people. However, let him who is without sin cast the first stone at the Metropolitan-elder, who dedicated his whole life to serving the Church. From Church history we know of many instances of mutual "misunderstandings" between holy fathers, for instance, between St. Gregory the Theologian and Blessed Jerome of Stridonium, St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. John Chrysostom, the Roman popes, St. Leo and St. Gregory and the fathers of the East. However, this did not prevent the conciliar understanding of the Church from glorifying the fathers mentioned and numbering them in the choir of saints.
It seems that the words of St. John, Metropolitan of Euchaita, referring to Blessed Theodoret of Cyrus, fully apply to the ever-memorable Vladika Vitaly: "In speaking about the wise teachers of the Church, I include in that number Theodoret, as a divine man, a great teacher, a lofty pillar of Orthodoxy; if he faltered because of some reason, he is a man-do not judge him, he is a man."
The Russian Church Abroad in the twentieth century brought to the Universal Church a wondrous phenomenon-a blossoming of righteous hierarchs. It is not an exaggeration to say that most of them achieved sanctity in the Lord while assiduously serving the Orthodox people with their various gifts. We will name just some of these righteous men-Sts. John (Maximovitch) and Seraphim (Sobolev), the deceased first hierarchs, Metropolitans Anthony, Anastassy, and Philaret, Archbishops Theophan (Bistrov), Leonty and Anthony (Bartoshevich), Vitaly (Maximenko), Nikon (Rklitsky), Averky (Tauschev), Andrei (Rimarenko), Leonty of Chile, Anthony of Los Angeles, Anthony of San Francisco, and Mitrophan of Boston. They truly were spiritual leaders, confessors, and elders who co-suffered and prayed for their people. And among them, Metropolitan Vitaly (Ustinov) occupies a worthy position.
The personality of Metropolitan Vitaly was brilliant, strong, and emotional. If an idea attracted him, he devoted himself to it completely. Sometimes there seemed to be contradictions in what the Metropolitan said, but nevertheless, the aim of his actions and thoughts were clear: love for Christ, Orthodoxy, the Church, Holy Russia, and the Russian people.
Some people mistakenly label Metropolitan Vitaly as a hater of the Russian Church in the homeland. But his heart continually ached and sorrowed for the purity of Orthodoxy, and not only in the homeland, but in all the world, and he never lost hope. If you were to summarize everything said by the Metropolitan, his position would be shown to be quite moderate. Here is a characteristic quote: "To no state, to no nation, tribe, or society, did the Lord promise that it would remain unshaken, not subject to destruction, impregnable, immune until the end of time. It is only to His Church that He ascribed these properties, saying that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Her, because Her Head is the Lord Almighty Himself. To perceive, to distinguish the true Church in the midst of the hundreds of so-called churches, both large and small, one must bear in mind, first of all, Her historical, unbroken, visible succession in time, from Christ Himself and His holy apostles, and, secondly, the pearl of truth within this visible vessel, as within a shell of a mother-of-pearl. The one cannot exist without the other. These two characteristics pertain only to the Universal Orthodox Church, which consists of many local Churches. At the present time, the majority of the local Churches have been shaken throughout by a dreadful twofold blow: the New Calendar and the heresy of ecumenism. Despite this lamentable situation, however, we dare not assert (and may God preserve us from this, for such is the duty only of an Ecumenical Council!) that they are devoid of the grace of God. We have pronounced an anathema upon the heresy of ecumenism for the benefit of the faithful of our Church alone, yet we thereby also call upon the local Churches (in a modest but firm, gentle but decisive manner), to give serious thought to the implications of our action. This is the role of our small, modest, somewhat persecuted, but always vigilant, true Church."
Concerning the vision of Metropolitan Vitaly relating to the fate of Russia and the Russian people, just like all the righteous of recent times, he always indicated the salvific effect of purifying repentance.
A meeting that Metropolitan Vitaly had in Canada with Andrei Romanchuk, a holy man of our times, made a great impression on Vladika. He recorded their conversation and it was later broadcast several times. Andrei Romanchuk told Vladika Vitaly already in 1959 that communism in Russia would surely collapse and that the Lord would stretch out His right hand over the Russian people, that Orthodoxy would shine from Russia throughout the whole world, and that there would come a time when children would carry on their shoulders stones for building the churches which their fathers had destroyed.
We will end our narration about the fourth First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad with words of his first epistle addressed to the flock, after he was chosen to be the First Hierarch. In this epistle is the resounding, incessant, and bold call of Vladika to the spiritual life, to repentance, fasting, prayer and love. This is everything by which Metropolitan Vitaly lived, everything which he called us to live by. Spiritual power is felt in this call, as if a preacher had come to us from the pages of the "Lives of the Saints," and with his life he gave us an example, "like one of the ancients."
"Fasting is a great commandment of God; it comprises countless virtues. Prayer without fasting is like smoke which spreads only over the surface of the ground. The wings of prayer are fasting and abstinence, which bear it up to the very throne of God. When we fast, we no longer dream about faith in God, we live in it and by it. But the most amazing thing is that in fasting we attain the very summit of all the virtues-love-because in struggling in abstinence we are not acting in a loving manner in our own regard, we are voluntarily rejecting every pleasure, delight, and comfort. We often take no account of how much we gratify ourselves in countless imperceptible ways, every hour, every day, showing our love for ourselves by all these activities, squandering the greatest of God's gifts, love, so sinfully, to no avail. And as it is impossible to look in two opposite directions simultaneously, so it is impossible to love oneself and one's neighbor.
"Our Lord Jesus Christ, in disclosing to His disciples the profundity and magnitude of love, indicated that love is not in our thoughts or even in our feelings, but in its activity, in life, when He said, Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends, (John 15:13). The Lord shed His own blood for us; and His disciples and the vast choir of the martyrs shed their blood for Him. Yet even though all Christians are not counted worthy of the great honor of receiving the crown of martyrdom, all genuine Christians must join in the struggle of shedding their own blood, a mortification of what is carnal in man. To such mortification for Christ's sake, to such love for our Saviour does the Church of Christ summon us during these days of fasting" ("Lenten Epistle", 1986).
O Lord Jesus Christ, Grant rest with the saints to the soul of the ever-memorable Metropolitan Vitaly, and help us, at least to a small degree, to fulfill his precepts!