Bishop Gregory about his trip to Suzdal

December 3/16, 2001
Beloved Parishioners in the Lord, Rejoice!
When we say, "the persecuted Russian Church" in our services, this is exactly true. Granted, it's not as severe as it once was; for behold, look what happened, a bishop was made in Russia for America. Father George, Br. John and I traveled to the ancient capital of Russia, Suzdal. We arrived in Moscow at night, and Metropolitan Valentine made all the arrangements to get us to Suzdal. When we woke up the next morning, it was an amazing sight. The first light of day in Russia showed us what it meant to be in "holy" Russia. You look one direction, and you see five churches. You turn your head 90 degrees, and you see five more churches, and if you look behind you, there are churches everywhere.
Suzdal, compared to Moscow, is a quiet city. It's like Buena Vista compared to Denver. The monks have to walk from one church to another, from their cells to their work places, etc., so it's not uncommon to see the monastics on the street. In fact, it is a very beautiful sight. It makes the whole city like a monastery, or like a monastery backyard. I believe the Metropolitan has about thirty monastics in the city.
When I arrived, there were three bishops in town: Met. Valentine, of course, Archbishop Theodore, and Bishop Anthony, a catacomb bishop who had to travel many hundreds of miles to be there for the consecration. The Apostolic Canons of the Church require two or three bishops to be present for an ordination of a bishop. Later, councils made the minimum to be three, and only out of necessity could there be only two. So many thanks should be expressed to Vladika Anthony for his effort in making the long journey from the city of Yaransk.
The Synod was meeting at that time, and I was asked to participate, in which I was told of my nomination and election, and the decision of when they wanted to perform the consecration. It was decided for Sunday, the 2nd of December (N.S.), because of the amount of people that would be present.
Well, things went quickly from then on. Before I left for Russia, I was able to buy some of the things that I needed, such as vestments, mantia, and a mitre. Whatever I lacked, Met. Valentine and Archbishop Theodore supplied.
Just two hours before we left the monastery in Buena Vista, my vestments came from Greece. In the scramble to pack everything, now that we knew how much space we had left after we put the vestments in, we overlooked a lot of things such as scarfs, big woolen socks, gloves, vitamins, etc. But the most embarrassing thing we forgot was the English copy of my acceptance speech which was translated into Russian and sent weeks beforehand. When the time came for me to make a speech, I had nothing before me. It is really convenient, knowing the nervousness that a person can be in, to have something written beforehand. Well, when the time came for the announcement, I had to make my acceptance speech and, of course, that was a disaster (others thought not so). I thanked the Metropolitan and the Synod for their confidence and for their desire to build up the Church in America. I spoke of canonical order in the Church and how those who love it would be drawn to us. I tried to remember as much as I could of my prepared speech. That was my mistake! I should have just said what came to my mind.
The next day was the ordination. They had a very large eagle rug in the center of the Church. The candidate is brought forward by the priests and the deacons. He is placed on the rim of the rug and is asked his confession of the Faith. "And how do you believe?" the Metropolitan asks. Then I read the Creed. The presiding bishop blesses me and then asks me to reveal more thoroughly my belief regarding the three Hypostases of the Holy Trinity and concerning the Incarnation of the Logos of God. Then I am led to the center of the eagle and, standing there, I say the second confession of the Faith. After this is read, I am blessed again by the presiding bishop with the words, "The grace of the Holy Spirit be with you, enlightening you, strengthening and endowing you with understanding all the days of your life."
Then I am led to stand on the head of the eagle and the presiding bishop asks me how I believe concerning the canons of the Ecumenical Synods, the holy Fathers, and the traditions of the Church. Then I give the third confession of the Faith in which I promise "to keep unchanged the traditions of the Church and to preserve the canons of the Apostles and the seven Ecumenical Synods and all the canons of the Fathers", etc. and I promise "to rule the flock entrusted to me with the fear of God and devoutness of life, and fervently to teach it, striving with all zeal to guard it against all heresies." Then the Liturgy commenced in which the consecrations took place. I say 'consecrations' because Metropolitan Valentine, Archbishop Theodore, and Bishop Anthony did something in that Liturgy which can rarely be seen in one's lifetime. They consecrated a bishop, a priest, a deacon, a subdeacon, and a reader in one Liturgy; one long Liturgy. It was truly amazing. Of course, people should understand that the canons of the Church stipulate that only one bishop and one priest and one deacon can be ordained in one day on the same altar. It's a blessing to see a priest and a deacon ordained together; but to see a bishop consecrated in addition to that is quite unique. Father Philaret was ordained a priest, and Fr. Metrophan was ordained a deacon.
For those who have never seen this holy ceremony, let me explain a little more what happened. After the Thrice-Holy hymn, the candidate, myself, was escorted by the archpriest and protodeacon before the holy altar where I made a prostration to the bishops. Immediately, I kneel on both knees in front of the altar facing east with my head on the altar-table in the midst of the bishops. They take the holy Gospel book, open it, and lay it on my head with the writing downward. The bishops laid their hands on me and on the holy Gospel, and the presiding bishop reads the prayers prescribed by the holy Church. There are three prayers. In these three prayers, the presiding bishop says, "Do Thou Thyself, O Master of all, (the petition) through the Laying-on of Hands of us, his fellow bishops here present, "
While the Metropolitan was reading his prayers, the rubrics instruct the other two bishops to make a litany, said quietly so that only the bishops themselves hear it. One assistant bishop says, "In peace let us pray to the Lord", which was Archbishop Theodore, making these petitions. And the response was "Lord have mercy" given by Bishop Anthony. They continued, doing twelve petitions and responses between themselves. It was like a Great Ectenia, said among themselves, and the petitions were for the peace of the world, for the Holy Synod, and for the servant of God receiving the Laying-on of Hands, that God will bless his episcopacy, etc. And then at the end, the presiding bishop completes his prayer and gives the exclamation, which was "For Thine it is to show mercy and to save us, O our God, ".
So we see that even the prayers themselves, the rubrics, require that a bishop be ordained by more than one bishop. I say all this because many times we do not understand that the rules laid down by the Church, the laws which She prescribes must be followed, or else we are doing, not the will of God, but the will of man. Here, on the same day, a candidate promises to obey the canons of the Church, and then how can he proceed to be ordained by a single bishop in violation of those very canons that he vows to uphold? (I bring this up because of the negative reaction and even insults which I have received from an "Orthodox" group which has its origin from a one-handed consecration.)
After these prayers come the vesting and the giving of the new bishop those things that are unique to his rank. And all the people say "Axios" ("Worthy"). As many of you have told me, "Although we will not be there, yet, when they say 'Axios,' they are speaking for us." It is needless to say that I did not feel worthy. In fact, I felt quite unworthy, and my prayer continuously, with my head on the altar table, was beseeching our Savior that this all be to His glory, begging the Virgin Mary and all the saints for help, praying for all the people back home, and asking our Savior that I make no mistakes. It was only out of necessity that I agreed to be ordained, there being no other candidate available and the affairs of the Church in America were suffering because of the neglect resulting from the lack of a residing and English-speaking bishop in this land.
The people in Suzdal, I believe, if I asked them to give me the shirt (or rather I should say coat, heavy coat) off their back, would have given it, and even more. Metropolitan Valentine had already given us his gold set of vestments and his mitre when he was here in Colorado. Now, in Russia, showing the love he has for us, he gave me his own Panagia and Cross set which he was wearing when he ordained me. They are absolutely stunning. In a word, he did everything he could possibly do to make us comfortable. We should all pray that God grants him many years. I have met many bishops in my lifetime and, as I said before, I say again, Metropolitan Valentine ranks up there among the best.
When I began to celebrate the Liturgy by myself, I had to restrain myself from weeping, wishing not to detract from the joy of those present, beholding a new bishop serve. It hit me quite strongly, when in the Liturgy the bishop commemorates the living and the dead at the Proskomedi table. I commemorated my reposed father, mother, and Maria Skarupa, and all those who are beloved and have reposed in the Lord. I was commemorating these people as a bishop and I said to myself, "I'm commemorating you as a bishop." If these people were alive, I probably couldn't serve, for the mere fact that I would be weeping. Maria Skarupa was a Russian woman who lived in Moscow, and when the German forces came into Russia, she, along with many other Russians, fled the country with her husband, John. She told me how it was in Russia before the Revolution. She told me of the Iverskya Icon at Red Square. She settled in Denver and more or less adopted me all the time I was in Colorado until she died. She told me stories of how she witnessed a deacon beheaded on the street by a Bolshevik on horseback, who with his sword, as he rode by on his horse, cut off his head. She supported the Church and would have loved to see me at this time.
Archbishop Theodore, who is the expression of Metropolitan Valentine's soul, if I could use such an expression, stayed with me everyday and instructed me in all the procedures during the services. Metropolitan Valentine said that he was "Martha" and Vladyka Theodore was "Mary." Well, I do not know about that, but one thing I do know, is they all are true images of Christ, and their desire is for the good and well-being of the Church. After the ordination, I served on eight different occasions, every day, in about seven different churches, and Vladyka Theodore was with me all the time along with the priests and subdeacons and servers. They are all very wonderful people from the greatest to the least. We talked about the greatest; let's talk a little about the least.
They have an altar boy there, John, who can read all the services in a superb voice. He is only ten years old. When he goes to school, they persecute him because he is with Vladyka Metropolitan Valentine. The other boys know of his devotion to the Church and ridicule and mock him. These are boys that belong to the ROCOR church, who happen to live in that area. Little John, as an expression of his love for us, when he found out that I was named after St. Gregory Palamas, took his icon of the saint and wrote on the back, "To Bishop Gregory, with love, so that you can remember John". After the Church service, he gave it to me, saying accept this as a gift from me. I was so touched. It was an icon that I had painted! God alone knows how they got a print of it and mounted it. I kept it with me until the end of the trip and then gave it back to him so that he could remember me.
Many of the services were recorded on video by Father George. Brother John got sick with a fever during the first week. Towards the end of the visit, the Metropolitan and Archbishop Theodore took us to the city of Vladimir. Of course, we all recognized this name as one of the great cities in the history of Russia. They took us also to the city of Yaroslavl, where we met Father Nicholas and visited his church. Then we continued on to Moscow, where we visited Father Michael Ardov's church of the New Martyrs of Russia. The next day we attempted to go to Red Square to look at some of the churches, such as Saint Basil's Cathedral, but the cold was getting to me, and I asked to go back home, or anyplace that was warm! J The next day, being the day of our departure, the two Vladykas, Archimandrite Irenarch, deacon Vladimir, and our translator Maria Robertna Shtilmark, took us to the airport, making sure that we flew through customs without any trouble.
Being on a plane with 350 people, breathing the same air for ten hours, could and does have an effect on you. Well, it had an effect on me, and I was ready for hibernation. Somehow I contracted a bacterial infection, for which I am taking antibiotics.
Today was the first hierarchal liturgy celebrated by myself and the fathers here. Our Church is now a cathedral. For the first time I sat in two seats which I have only looked at for seven years; only bishops sat in them. Father George congratulated me for finally getting to use those chairs, which had only collected dust for this entire time! J
Life has changed here, now that there is a bishop. None of the services are done in the same way as before. I get to serve on Sundays and feast days, and if I'm serving, it's quite different then when a priest is serving by himself. Now, though, when Father George serves by himself in the presence of the bishop, even this is different from that to which we are accustomed.
As time goes on, we will understand more and more the great blessing that Metropolitan Valentine and the Synod has done for America.
We offer our profound thanks to God, and also to all those in Russia and here at home who, by their labors and prayers, made possible this great blessing for the Church in this country; and we ask for their prayers.
In Christ,
+Bishop Gregory


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