His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of Eastern America and New York: “The Most Important Thing is to Provide Youth with an Example of Good Christian Living”
Interview with Russkaya zhizn’ [Russian Life]
Russian Life: Your Eminence, is this Easter the first that you meet as the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia? What have you managed to do during this time, how were you elected to this post, and what are your main efforts aimed at today?
Metropolitan Nicholas: Yes, indeed, this Easter is the first in my obedience as the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, which was unexpectedly entrusted to me by my brethren at the Council of Bishops last September. In these first months of my new ministry, I try, to the best of my ability, to enter into all the affairs of the administration, to study the needs of my brethren, clergy and flock, their activities, joys and difficulties.
The main efforts, in my opinion, should always be aimed at the salvation of my own soul and the souls of the people whom the Lord has entrusted to me. When a clergyman, a public figure, or parent tries to faithfully carry out his duties to God and people, he and others are saved for eternal life. As St Seraphim of Sarov said, "Save yourself, and thousands around you will be saved."
As for the common efforts of the episcopate, clergy and flock of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, they should be aimed at, as Archpriest George Florovsky famously put it, "to go forward to the fathers." It is necessary to continue the work of God on this earth and build it on the foundation and precepts of our ever-memorable predecessors. The Russian Church Abroad ministers to the children and grandchildren of the first wave of emigration, and she also ministers to new emigrants, some of whom, while in their homeland, lived a church life, and most of whom became churched in a foreign land. Our Church also ministers to the local inhabitants of the countries of its residence – Americans, Europeans and Australians, who have become Orthodox. All these people need to be nourished properly, ecclesiastically, pastorally, and then, I am sure, we will not only ensure our future, we will also have an interesting present.
Russian Life: Not all readers of the newspaper are familiar with your biography. Tell us a little about yourself, about your parents, and most importantly, about how you personally came to God?
Metropolitan Nicholas: It is difficult to answer the question of how I came to God. After all, each of us is on the path to Him. And it's much easier to talk about parents and mentors. My roots are in Belarus, where my ancestors left after the war, first to Germany, and in 1948 to Brazil, where they were parishioners of St Nicholas Cathedral in São Paulo. In 1961, my parents' families moved to the United States. Knowing each other from Brazil, my parents were married in 1966 at the Intercession Church in Rochester, New York, and my brothers, Paul and Sergei, were born and raised in New Jersey. Here, my father was an engineer and my mother was a housewife. Our parents raised us in the spirit of godliness. At home, we spoke only Russian, our parents observed fasts and holidays according to the old calendar, loved to receive guests. I remember that not only did we pray at home, but we always went to all the services performed at the Church of the Assumption in Trenton, the capital of New Jersey. And my brothers and I went to the Russian school at St Alexander Nevsky parish in Lakewood. Other Russian guys from different cities of New Jersey, as well as from Philadelphia, also went here. The director of this school was Mikhail Alexandrovich Lermontov, a descendant of our famous Russian poet. After classes, he often talked with us, conducted drawing lessons. He and I made holiday cards, painted eggs for Easter, etc. Our spiritual father was Protopresbyter Valery Lukyanov, the long-term rector of St Alexander Nevsky parish.
My parents worked tirelessly in their beloved Dormition parish, where I was baptized on the eve of the Baptism of the Lord in 1975, taking care of the splendor of the church, the arrangement and holding of holidays, meals and other events. But, thank God, they took us to other churches in New Jersey, including the St Vladimir Memorial Church or the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia in Jackson. I remember various celebrations at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign at the Synodal Residence of the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in New York, when they were led by Metropolitans Philaret (Voznesensky) and Vitaly (Ustinov), pilgrimages to Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville and meetings with the young Archbishop Laurus (Skurla), Archimandrites Cyprian (Pyzhov), Vladimir (Sukhobok) and Sergius (Romberg), Abbot Gury (Golosov) and others. At celebrations, pilgrimages and youth conferences, we also met other children who, like us, were brought up in the Russian church spirit. Looking back, I see that the example of my parents, church life, worship, communication with the clergy, church and public figures and representatives of young people, who, like us, considered it important to hold on to their roots – all this had a beneficial effect on my soul and led me to the seminary, and then to the service of the Church.
Russian Life: These April days are overshadowed by a heavy confrontation in the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra. What is the attitude of the Russian Church Abroad to this?
Metropolitan Nicholas: We deeply empathize with His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, the brethren of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra and its numerous pilgrims, not to mention the entire Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has been persecuted by the authorities and radicals for years. Recent videos of the seizure of the Nativity of Christ Cathedral in Ivano-Frankivsk, widely circulated online, caused a terrible pain in the heart for the clergy and faithful of this city, led by Bishop Nikita. Seizures of churches, bans on activities, threats, violence, searches and arrests – this is the sad reality in which archpastors, clergy and parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church live. And this is despite the fact that the canonical Church has done more than all other religious organizations in the country to help its military and those who are homeless. Monastic monasteries, for example, receive numerous immigrants, providing them with the necessary assistance and support. At the same time, local authorities continue to persecute them, thus "strengthening national security."
We have prayed and continue to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters, that the Lord would strengthen them with faith and hope in His Providence. At this stage, we are collecting funds for the Lavra brethren through the Fund for Assistance and sending them safely to help them financially. Unfortunately, the information about the persecutions experienced by the Church is of little interest to the authorities and the public of Western countries. But, thank God, there are people who hear us, who understand and support us, contributing, for example, to the placement of articles on the situation of the Church on influential resources.
Russian Life: This year marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, of which you are also a graduate. How will our Church celebrate this event?
Metropolitan Nicholas: The main thing is to give praise to God for the gifts of His mercy and to lovingly honor the memory of the ascetics of Holy Trinity Monastery and its seminary.
In his report at the last session of the Synod of Bishops, the Dean of Holy Trinity Seminary, Nicolas Shidlovsky, briefly outlined the draft program of the upcoming anniversary celebration, which will take place from September 15 to 17 of this year. On February 12 of this year, on the feast day of the three ecumenical hierarchs: SS Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, the heavenly patrons of the seminary, we began this celebration with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the cathedral church of the monastery and the organization of the traditional meeting in the assembly hall of the seminary.
As you know, Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky) called the Holy Trinity Monastery "our spiritual fortress." Therefore, of course, the diamond jubilee of the seminary deserves that we once again take an interest in its history and reflect on the great personalities who served it. It is also worth reflecting on what our ever-memorable fathers would have done in the current conditions of service at Holy Trinity Seminary. After all, we have a blessed legacy behind us. If we gratefully honor their memory and feel that their eyes are fixed on us, we will be able, calling on God for help, in renewing our strength to continue their work for the benefit of future generations. Therefore, I am anxiously looking forward to this celebration, as well as the conciliar service with numerous graduates of the seminary who have become ministers of the Altar of the Lord, and joint prayer with pilgrims, asking the Chief Shepherd-Christ for help and further success in our theological school.
Russian Life: One of the important issues for today's Russian Church in America is the Orthodox education of the younger generation, which often grows up in an atmosphere of atheistic and even anti-Christian cults. How does ROCOR build this work in today's social realities?
Metropolitan Nicholas: Thank God, church and scout camps, pilgrimages, parish schools and children's clubs are of great benefit, and diocesan youth conferences are very popular. However, we cannot afford, as they say, to "rest on our laurels". This work must continue!
After all, in our parishes the youth is heterogeneous: some were born in a foreign land, others in the CIS countries. Some were brought up in the Orthodox spirit, others were not brought up in this way and later came to the Church. Among our young people there are also children of converts who have come to Orthodoxy in different ways, who also actively participate in church life. Therefore, our Church faces an interesting and at the same time very difficult task – to work with young people who have been brought up so differently.
The most important thing is to set an example of a good Christian life for young people and speak to them in their language, try to get into the position of young people today, answer their questions and just spend time with them. This is very important, because not only appropriate upbringing, but also communication with young people, give them a seed that will bear fruit over time. We should not be afraid of the children of our parishioners, and they should not be afraid of us. Practicing with them, we will get more joy than problems.
I am personally pleased that the Cathedral Choir of the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God "Joy of All Who Sorrow" in San Francisco consists mainly of young people. Young choristers, as a rule, are well acquainted with the charter of worship, love the temple and holidays, preserve the language and customs of their ancestors. Young singers, who learn church hymns, Christmas carols and folk songs, easily join the riches of our culture, imbued with the spirituality of Holy Russia. Therefore, singing is of great educational importance.
Russian Life: Your Eminence, what would you wish to the readers of "Russian Life", the oldest operating newspaper of the Russian diaspora, which, after a short break due to organizational and technical difficulties, began to spread again throughout America?
Metropolitan Nicholas: I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate everyone on the world-saving celebration of Pascha of Christ, heartily wishing everyone many mercies and blessings of God, so that the touching days of Holy Week and the feast of Holy Pascha may pass in a churchly, family-like way, joyfully and for the benefit of our souls.