Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Podvig: Spiritual achievement

Geshem - dozhd' : дождь-גשם! Rain! Rainy day for the funerals of late Patriarch Aleksii II of Moscow and All Rus/Russia's. He passed away on December 5th and was buried on Tuesday 9th of December - 26 November, 2008. The long wonderful chanting in Slavonic was accompanying the peaceful wailing of the Eastern Orthodox heads of the Church. All the Orthodox Churches were represented: Bartholomaios I of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch who quietly presided the ceremony, Patriarch Elia of Georgia, Patriarch Daniel of Romania, Archbishop Leo of Finland, Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro/Cernagora in the name of the Serbian Patriarch Pavle, Metropolitan Hieronymos of Athens-Greece, Archbishop Anastaseos of Albania. Metropolitan Hesychios represented Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem along with the representatives of the local Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Cyprus, Czech Lands and Slovakia, Bulgaria. Metropolitan Demetrios from the United States was there as also the hierarchy of the Russian Church Abroad. Cardinals R. Etchegarray and W.Kaspers came in the name of Pope Benedict XVI.

The "Zaupokoinaia Bozhestvennaia Liturgiya -заупокойная Божественная Литургия - The Divine Liturgy for the repose of the soul of the late Patriarch" was conducted by the locum tenens, Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, a huge number of clergy, monastic and lay people. Some parts were read in different languages; English, Finnish. Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk read the "epitimia - praying letter of remittance of all sins" and put the document in the hands of the late patriarch. President Medvedev and PM Putin joined all the people for the "tselovanye\целование - last kiss". The open coffin was carried to a car and brought to the place of burial at St. Aleksii church at Yelokov.

It was raining as the cars and small buses drove slowly to the place, with green and white wreaths of roses thrown in the church and along the way. The "slowly chanted Trishagion - Trisviatoe\трисвятое" accompanied the patriarch and crowds were standing under the rain. There is something that inhabits the Russian Orthodox Church: "teshena\тишина - quietness". During Vespers, one chants the ancient Jerusalemite verses of the hymn: "phos hilaron - joyous light in Greek - Quiet/peaceful Light - tikhiy Svet\тихий Свет" in Slavonic. The same atmosphere was to be felt during the funerals - tears and emotions, a lot of self-control. Maybe some sort of general surprise to be there and celebrate openly and freely the burial of the first patriarch who headed the Russian Orthodox Church in full freedom.

On December 10th, The Holy Synod had a meeting and decided that the process of the election of the new patriarch will be held from January 25 and 26 in a first preparatory encounter of the representatives (bishops, clergy, monks and lay people in accordance with the rules in force in the Russian Orthodox Church). Then the election will take place on January 27-29, declared today Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad who headed the first meeting at St. Daniel's Monastery in view to open the process of electing the 16th patriarch. The locum tenens responded to the journalists. The Israeli press has barely accounted the event of the passing away and funerals of the late patriarch. The country is embattled in the coming elections of Knesset 18 and a lot of other problems. "Novosti" - the Russian site in Israel connected with Interfax gave all the details of the procedure.

Interestingly, they also put on line an interview of Archbishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria who is the representative of the Moscow Patriarchate in Central Europe and at the European Communities. As readily exposed in other notes, he is a young and very talented theologian, clergyman, linguist and a brilliant musician. He had recently been contacted by some members of the O.C.A. [Orthodox Church of America] in view to possibly become the head of the local North America Church that had been granted autocephaly by in 1970, under the strong influence of Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad [St. Petersburg], a man of great prestige and openness. Metropolitan Nikodim had previously headed the Moscow Patriarchate Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem in 1968. He was known for his ecumenical views and interfaith openness. It definitely impressed some of the Greek clergy who studied at the Leningrad theological Academy while he was metropolitan there.

Many of the the Russian newcomers to Israel - and most of the Soviet educated Russian Orthodox believers would have presumed that one of the major Greek Orthodox Patriarchate metropolitan who somehow and seemingly had been under strong influence of metropolitan Nikodim would have been elected as patriarch of Jerusalem when late Patriarch Diodoros passed away. This is a typical Russian and Soviet "vue de l'esprit" - it was not totally imaginary if the idiom needs to be translated into English. It was not real for many reasons. This why the election of the new head of the Moscow Church is so meaningful.

Patriarch Aleksii was not a careerist. His father was a priest and had spent some time in jail. Patriarch Aleksii was also a married man who divorced his wife and became a monk at a time of dire communistic dictatorship. In his interview on June 10, 1991 published in Izvestia, the then-newly elected patriarch declared that it was" incumbent upon him to take over the responsibility of all that had happened in the life of his Church: not only the good part, but also the dark and sorrowful pages". He had added: "I ask all those who suffered from concessions, silences, forced passivity and these declaration of loyalty (the declaration of late Patriarch Sergei under communist rule) for forgiveness, understanding and to pray for me... When [our] society is split by ethnic and political contradictions, the Church should be the place where the most different people should be able to understand each other and live in unity..." (idem). These elements called to him an immense activity of maintaining constant balance among all the tendencies that showed and continue to show up at a time of "restoration".

Thus, Archbishop Hilarion added today that, in his opinion, the new patriarch should chosen among the members of the Holy Synod. He pointed out that all the members knew late Patriarch Aleksii for years and always accompanied him. Thus, it would be good to choose of them in order to prolong the actions of HH. Aleksii II. Metropolitan Kyrill underscored that the vote will be secret at that each eparchy [diocese] will be granted full freedom to send the delegates of their choice, provided that the final voting quorum will be composed of 29 members.

Is it too early to detect who might be elected to head the Patriarchate of Moscow? It is a bit too early for different reasons. There is a general tendency in the life of the Churches at the present to try to assign "heirs" or very close co-workers as successors at the head of important sees. Whatever tradition concerned, it is evident that Pope Benedict XVI had accompanied and worked together with late Pope John Paul II over 20 years. In a period of a foreseeable chaotic international situation, the Holy Spirit did choose a man of strong competence and wide experience that can implement some decisions that he might have initiated together with John Paul II.

Interestingly, Patriarch Aleksii II had visited Paris a year ago, which was an unprecedented for a Russian patriarch; he attended some services at the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris together with Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris who today is heading the French Bishop conference. This was unheard for a Russian Patriarch to enter a Catholic Church and participate in the veneration of the Thorn Crown relics kept in the French cathedral. Following the steps of late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger who visited the Soviet Union twenty years ago, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois paid a visit to late Patriarch Aleksii in Moscow just a month a go. He traveled to the Solovski island monastery that was a huge concentration and labor camp under the communist regime. A lot of clergy and faithful died there as martyrs. He also went to Fr. Alexander Men's church of Novaia Derevnia where Cardinal Lustiger and the murdered priest had met for a short while.

Indeed, Cardinal A. Vingt-Trois was assigned archbishop of Paris when Cardinal Lustiger retired. They had been working together for more than 20 years. "Duration" and struggling for faith may explain this trend that also shows in other parts of the world. It is relevant and makes sense as compared with the present situation of the Moscow Patriarchate. Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad has accompanied and worked with Patriarch Aleksii over a very long and faithful period of time. At this point, he is the locum tenens and a relevant candidate with a wide range of rich experience and contacts in the Church. The Russian Church showed up again with much power and has to define its action and position toward the eparchies/dioceses inside and outside of the former Soviet republics. Some became independent States. The situation is special showing a large scope of liberal to very strict and traditional attitudes. Time is very significant for the Slavs and the Russian soul.

Curiously enough, there may also be some young candidates, if any. Archbishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria was about to be called to head the "Orthodox Church in America". It is special to hear his voice today. He is not an exception, though engaged in a very peculiar international and theological ministry. The members of the Synod of the Church Abroad is also getting new. Basically, it should be too early to elect a "young patriarch" in a Church and cultural environment that does trust the elders. Many things are not known to the other Churches and show unexpectedly.

Patriarch Aleksii II had visited Israel from March 27th to April 1st, 1991. He has then met late Patriarch Diodoros I [Journal of the Patriarchate of Moscow, 1991, Nr 6]. This was a traditional journey and visit to the Holy Land and the Holy site of the Mother of All the Churches. Patriarchs Aleksii I and Pimen had visited Jerusalem in 1946 and 1972. Patriarch Aleksii III participated in many of the Services of the Holy Week. He had to postpone his pilgrimage till March because of the problem in the Gulf. This point should be noted: it shows some similarities with the situation at the present, though with new parameters that will be discussed by the new patriarch, in particular with regards to the State of Israel.

On Sunday 31st of March, 1991, [Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem - Palm Sunday, Orthodox date], Patriarchs Aleksii and Diodoros had celebrated the Divine Liturgy in the Anastasis/Holy Sepulcher Church. At that time, Patriarch Aleksii also led some Divine Liturgies at the Russian ecclesiastical mission near Safra Square, the Eyn Karem monastery [Gornenskii monastir] located in West Jerusalem.

Patriarch Aleksii met at that time with Haim Herzog, the President of the State of Israel and Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir on March 28, 1991. This meeting allowed strengthening the re-establishment of the relationships between Soviet Union and Israel and was noted as a positive point.

Morever, in the presence of Patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem, they discussed the problems of real estate and properties of the Russian ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem . The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Palestine had been established in 1847 by the then- Moscow Synod. Until 1917, it mainly took care of the thousands pilgrims from the Russian Empire. It has been a very ancient tradition of the Russian Orthodox believers to come to the Holy Sites in the Holy Land. By 1947 - i.e. one century after the foundation of the Mission - Israel decided to return the real estate and properties located in West Jerusalem to the Patriarchate of Moscow. three other monasteries were under the control of the Church Abroad (Eleona, Gethsemane, Mamre). Other sites were disputed in the Palestinian Territories until and after the Six Day war. At the present, there is still a problem about the building located at Safra Square. Let's say that real estate and property problems are still pending.

Patriarch Aleksii inaugurated his ministry with this very prophetic visit of the head of the Moscow Patriarchate in Jerusalem. Since 1991, times and circumstances have intensively changed. He had visited Yad VaShem, the Deportation and Shoah memorial place that evolved into a whole Institute of research and Studies. He had declared: "The Russian Orthodox Church will definitely fight anti-Semitism in Soviet Union". When he was metropolitan of Leningrad, Aleksii had also spoken, in 1989, by the time of the perestroika and after the celebration of the millennium of the baptism of the Rus', against all forms of intolerance. They sadly affect some sectors of the post-communist society.
"Zlobost'\злобость - wickedness" is a strong sociological and cultural tendency that attacks the souls everywhere.

True, spiritual connections and challenges can also be positive.

av Aleksandr [Winogradsky Frenkel]

December 10/November 27, 2008 - 14 deKislev 5769 - י"ד דכסלו תשס"ט

church of fr. Aleksandr Men'.

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