VLADYKA ANTHONY (MEDVEDEV) AND FORT ROSS
A story from Archpriest Alexander Krassovsky
By Olga Rozhneva
Archpriest Alexander Krassovsky is the Rector of SS Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church in Santa Rosa, CA, not far from San Francisco. In our last conversation we discussed his father’s family, which was forced to emigrate from Russia and embarked on the difficult path of the Russian diaspora. Today, Fr Alexander shares his memories of Vladyka Anthony (Medvedev):
Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev, 1908-2000) was the Ruling Bishop of our Western American Diocese from 1968-2000, exactly those years when I studied at the Orthodox high school at the Church of All Russian Saints in Burlingame, and also during my adult years, my ordination to the diaconate and priest.
Vladyka was a genuine monk of prayer. All who had the joy of concelebrating with him during Liturgy cannot express in words to describe his piety before the holy altar. He loved divine services dearly. He was the epitome of spirituality, and had incredible pastoral love.
Archbishop Anthony was the Director of SS Cyril and Methodius High School at the Cathedral of the Mother of God “Joy of All Who Sorrow,” which was founded by St John of Shanghai and San Francisco. Vladyka Anthony also taught Church history at the school, and I must say he loved teaching it. He very much hoped that Russian children would grow up Orthodox Christians and knew everything about the Russian Orthodox Church. I helped him publish lessons for his classes.
I remember an amusing but significant episode which characterized Vladyka’s attitude towards teaching students. He once traveled to a meeting of the Synod of Bishops in New York. The eminent archpastors had to conclude their meetings on Friday but were delayed, and the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia proposed they conclude on Saturday.
“I beg your pardon, Holy Vladyka, but there is no way I can stay! I have a lesson with the children tomorrow!"
Such was our Vladyka Anthony.
I remember Vladyka Anthony visited us in Santa Rosa, where I served and have thus far served at SS Peter and Paul Church for thirty years. Vladyka stayed the night in my home. When he came in, my little son Alyosha rushed to embrace him like he was his own grandfather. Vladyka Anthony likewise embraced him, kissed his head and blessed him.
I was a bit embarrassed; Archbishop Anthony was our ruling bishop, and my son should have properly approached him for his archpastoral blessing. But Alyoshka treated him like family, and it was very endearing to see the love with which he hugged his bishop.
Vladyka was always concerned about how regularly the students made confession and took Communion, especially on the feast day of the Entrance Into the Temple of the Most-Holy Mother of God-this was a special holiday for the kids. Vladyka Anthony took the confession of high-school students together with the other priests.
Vladyka was always present during exams in the high schools of the diocese, at graduation ceremonies, he signed and gifted books to the graduates.
He would come on the days of senior proms where everyone was dressed to the nines, Vladyka congratulated everyone, offered his blessings, took photographs with everyone who asked, but he would never attend the dances, as he saw it inappropriate for a monk.
Once I served in the cathedral, and two priests there began quarreling about some details of the divine service at hand. Vladyka Anthony approached them and asked “What’s the matter, fathers?”
Each began arguing for his point. Suddenly Protopresbyter Elias Wen emerged to the kliros-he was a remarkable pastor, a co-ascetic of St John of Shanghai, Chinese by nationality. He was born in 1896 in Peking and departed to the Lord in 2007 in San Francisco, being at the moment of his death the oldest Orthodox clergyman on the planet. But at the time of this story, Fr Elias was alive and well, and he was a magnificent expert in divine services.
And so even though Vladyka Anthony was an expert, he turned to Protopresbyter Elias and said “Fr Elias, tell us please how this service should be conducted?”
He explained how the service should proceed and why, and Archbishop Anthony, the ruling bishop of the diocese, said: “So shall it be!”
Everyone calmed down and proceeded to serve. For me this was a shining example of the humility and meekness of Vladyka Anthony.
Vladyka Anthony always supported our pilgrimages to Fort Ross. From San Francisco it is about a two-hour drive north. The distance is 80 kilometers as the crow flies, but the road twists almost in a serpentine shape.
Fort Ross was the furthest trade outpost of the Russian Empire in the 19th century. It was founded in 1812 and operated until 1841. The poet of Harbin, China, Alexei Achair, participant in the Siberian Ice Expedition, wrote this about the heroic Russian explorers, sailors and merchants:
Dear to us are Pamir and America,
And Baghdad and the Gulf of Lion.
Our Cossack on the eastern coast
And reached Dezhnev Bay.
Lighter than the birds and fleeter than the deer,
Scattered in a thousand places,
They reached the edges of California
The lonely Cossack journey…
Fort Ross was surrounded by tall log walls made of sequoia trees. Inside was a trading house, barracks, warehouses, residences and other auxiliary structures: two windmills, barnyards, a bakery, baths, etc. On the hillsides around the fort were agricultural concerns. In 1825, the fort’s artillery counted 17 small-caliber cannons.
It was at Fort Ross that the first windmills and ship-building wharfs in California were established, as well as orchards and vineyards. These Russian colonists were the first to bring to California many aspects of European civilization, for instance, glass windows, and were the first to systematically record the weather.
At the present time, Fort Ross is a historical park. The house of the fort’s last commandant, Alexander Gavrilovich Rotchev, is a unique structure, preserved to our day. Now it is a national landmark. The other structures in Fort Ross are under renovation. Still, it is the only wooden fortress of the Russian Empire of the 19th century surviving today.
There is a Russian cemetery there and an Orthodox chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Divine Liturgy is celebrated there annually, followed by a procession of the cross to the cemetery, where Vladyka Anthony would perform a memorial service.
In 1993 (by that time I had been an ordained priest for five years), excavations began in the cemetery, and I participated. There were no crosses there, and it was impossible to determine where the graves were, because everything was overgrown with grass. We only knew that the cemetery was on the hilltop.
Participating in the excavations were university experts, professors, and also the chief archeologist of California. We worked there for three years, scraping away a half a meter of earth and discovered the traces of graves. At the time we worked not with shovels but spoons, brushes and almost toothbrushes. What little we found were buttons from officers’ uniforms, a few bones. But all those buried had little crosses and pectoral icons.
Vladyka Anthony blessed our effort, but did not allow us to take anything out of the graves, for this was the burial site of Orthodox Christians, and we had to treat them with appropriate respect. Crosses were erected above the graves of the Orthodox Christians, and when we completed our work, Vladyka Anthony came with his protodeacon and served a pannikhida, as I walked the grounds and sprinkled them with holy water.
Vladyka Anthony was a great patriot, he would announce from the ambo of the cathedral that on the Day of Commemoration, held annually on the last Monday of May, we would go to Fort Ross. Firstly, because this is part of Russia. Secondly, there were holy people there. Among these were Fr John Veniaminov, the future St Innocent of Alaska (1797-1879), canonized as the Apostle of Siberia and America. He arrived in America in 1824 and lived here for 15 years: he educated and baptized local natives, built churches, founded Orthodox Christian schools and personally taught children. He would vaccinate them against smallpox, which halted the terrible epidemic in the region. He visited Fort Ross and prayed there.
Visiting here was also Bishop Tikhon of the Aleutians and North America (from 1898-1907), future Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. Also praying at Fort Ross were Archbishop Tikhon (Troitsky; 1883-1963) of San Francisco and Western America and his successor on the cathedra St John of Shanghai and San Francisco the Miracle-Worker.
For these reasons Vladyka Anthony blessed our annual visits to Fort Ross to pray at Holy Trinity Chapel, and to perform pannikhidas at its Russian cemetery.
18 November 2021.