Letter of Father George, December 1/14, 2001

Beloved Faithful in Christ,

Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ.

I have been reading through all the beautiful posts which have been posted
to our ROCA list regarding our Vladyka Gregory, and I am moved to glorify
our Lord Who has shown so much care for us, we who were afar off, even to
the ends of the earth.

We have so much that should be told about our trip, which is probably the
biggest understatement I have ever made, but I would like to at least make a
small beginning.

Vladyka Gregory wrote at 5am this morning that Metropolitan Valentine did
everything that he possibly could have done to make our trip to Suzdal as
edifying, strengthening, and comfortable as possible. He pooled the
resources of so many people, so that everything could be accomplished, that
we were truly amazed at the love shown us.

The clergy, the monastics, the laity, all of them working together,
exemplified what the body of Christ truly is, and what true love is. Their
obedience, devotion and love for Metropolitan Valentine is exactly what one
would expect, but so rarely finds in our century of apostasy.

We saw with our own eyes what it means to live in this world, and yet not be
of this world. As Americans who have never experienced open persecution, I
don't think we can really understand the spiritual stature of those whose
every moment of existence was overshadowed by a real and dangerous threat to
their lives for their simple belief in God. Their courage to confess their
beleif in Him, when parents, brothers, sisters and whole societies were
opposed to them, mocked and ridiculed them publicly, is an inspiration to
every Christian.

On our last two nights in Moscow, where one of the faithful literally gave
us her home to sleep in, and told her roomate to go live with her mother, I
stood looking out the window of the apartment at a whole series of massive
apartment buildings all around us. I considered the savagery of the Soviet
existence, which has so decimated the spiritual condition of the populace of
Russia today, that there were several people we met with who did not even
know the word Orthodox Christian, from little children, to young women, to
old men.

Holy Russia is there, but it lies beneath a blanket that only a soul
searching diligently will find. The existence of so many magnificent
churches does mean that there is anyone in them, or that a person at some
point in his life might wonder what those buildings are. There are many,
many similarities between American culture and post Soviet culture, it seems
to me, but I may be completely wrong as usual.

In the midst though, of this secular envirnment, there is found the pearl of
great price. It is not found in the massive structures of the Moscow
Patriarchate, adorned with the most costly items, nor in their little
country side churches built to compete with our churches in the same

The Pearl is found in the humbly adorned churches of the Russian Orthodox
Autonomous Church. Our choirs would not raise the applause of the Bolshoy
Theatre's members, but they harmoniously mingle with the praise of the
angels. Not all of our icons are of the finest quality, but those who pray
through them are knocking at the gates of heaven. Our clergy may not enjoy
the appelation, "theologian" in the circles of World Orthodoxy, but what
they do possess is beyond any earthly title: it is humility coupled with
true love.

The demons, and those who serve them, can emulate in a deceptive manner
every virtue enumerated in the Ladder of Divine Ascent, except one. It is
humility, which is the beginning and end of the spiritual life. It is found
in only one place: the hearts of the faithful, who have received the grace
of the Holy Spirit by being united to the Church.

For this trip, the monastery purchased a video recorder, which we used as
much as we could. We have about 7 hours of recorded material. With God's
help, we intend to edit it, and present it to everyone in some accessable
format, either for VCR or DVD.

Whenever we visited a new church, we used the camera, and tried to interview
the priest if possible, or record something about the church itself. Each
parish's story is astounding. There wasn't time for us to learn all the
details of each parish, but in general, one could say that they all have a
few things in common: persecution by the MP and local authorities, even to
the threatening of the priest's life, continual attacks to reposses the
temple somehow, and the struggle to keep the structure itself standing,
since funds are so limited, and the churches are in such a condition that
careful preservation is necessary at all times. But they endure all these
and more difficulties as if they were light troubles, that are simply part
of bearing the Cross of Christ.

In Russia today, someone told us that human life is of extremely low value.
For instance, if someone owes you $1000, it is simply cheaper for them to
pay $200 and have you killed. This is a somewhat simplistic explanation, but
this man was saying that this is a crucial principle for how things are
governed in Russia today.

Whenever we went out to walk about, we were carefully told many times not
expect the cars to stop for us if we stepped out, because they simply
wouldn't. One could be run down, without legal recourse. The police would
simply take you both to jail, and fine you both.

Our Synod in Russia is battling to save souls out of a society like this,
and they are doing it so successfully, that the MP fights them at every

On our way to Moscow, we drove through Yaroslav. Half way through a
beautiful, glistening white landscape, which ran for miles, our car started
to shake. It turned out that someone had put water in the gas tank, which
froze the carberator. When we opened it up, the carberator was filled with
ice! They suppose that the water was added to the gas tanks at the gas
station, just so that someone's car would break down, and you'd have to pay
a mechanic to fix it. Vladyka endured all this inconvenience with amazing

Another beautiful story.

On Sunday, I was too sick to serve, so I videod Vladyka Valentine serving
the Divine Liturgy, while Vladyka Gregory went to serve the Divine Liturgy
at Archbishop Theodore's cathedral in Borisovo.

The way the Metropolitan serves is truly majestic. His graceful, harmonious
movements, each of which seems to communicate the prayerfulness of his soul,
is enough to move one to tears. His voice is so compunctionate at times,
that even this is too much for me. :) In a word, the service was

At the conclusion of all this, the Metropolitan comes out of the sanctuary
to give the final blessing to the faithful, and to say a word or two. I
didn't understand most of what he said, but I did understand this:

He began to announce that Vladyka Gregory would serve his final Liturgy in
the Tsar Constantine Cathedral on the following day, and then on Tuesday, he
would depart with his God-preserved brotherhood for America. He made notible
mention of how far Vladyka Gregory had travelled to reach Suzdal, and
mentioned some of the missionary efforts that our monastery is engaged in,
such as the publications of Holy Apostles Convent. It was of special note
that the only books we publish are Orthodox books, whereas in Russia, I
suppose this is not always the case.

Finally he said to them all, encouraging everyone to come to the Liturgy,
saying, "Vladyka Gregory prays for us sinners."

I cannot express what that simple phrase meant to me. Before us stood a man
whose martyric life is an inspiration to everyone who beholds him, and here
he calls himself and his flock sinners, saying that our Bishop prays for

The next day the Church was packed for Vladyka's final Liturgy. :)

The consecration of Bishop Gregory has great meaning for us in America; it
has no less meaning for those in Russia, I suspect. Now in America, people
who wish to follow the narrow and straight way, who have called out from the
depths of their souls to God to show them the light, have an answer: there
is a bishop in America now, who has never comprised his faith, not even

There are many more anecdotal stories that I hope to write. I have a great
sense of inadequacy in communicating something that I hope words are capable
of sharing with you all. Perhaps living with and seeing the lives of each
person we met is the only way to communicate this information, but I hope

We thank you all for your prayers more than I know how to say. We glorify
God that He did not forsake us, although we truly are sinners.

With love in Christ,

George, hieromonk

P.S. -- Special thanks should be offered to Maria Robertna Shtilmark, who
was our translator throughout our stay in Russia. She sacrificed very much
to be with us all the time in Suzdal. She lives in Moscow.


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