Interview – Bishop Jerome: Between East and West

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We had that honor to talk to bishop Jerome, bishop of ROCOR , under Russian Church. Bishop Jerome is a vicar bishop of Eastern American Diocese, with the seat in Manhattan. Bishop Jerome is in charge of Western Rite in Russian Church. He will tell us about his journey to Orthodoxy and about Western Rite.

Are you cradle orthodox or you are a convert?

I had never even heard of the Orthodox Church until I was about 13 or 14 years old. I was raised in a basically “Anglo” family in a small New England town, where there were only a few hundred people, and three churches (one was the old Puritan church, another the Roman Catholic chapel attached to a larger parish in the next town, and the main church was the Episcopalian or Anglican church which dated from the late 17th or early 18th century. That was the church I attended up to when I was in high school, and began learning about Orthodox Christianity.

The Anglican church had led us to believe that they, and the “Eastern Orthodox”, were basically the same thing. I was led to believe that “we were in communion”, until at age 16 I spend the summer in Greece, where I stayed with a Greek family, learned to speak the language, and discovered that the Anglicans were not at all “in communion” with the Orthodox, and I found out much more.

When did you realize that Orthodoxy is Church from the Creed, and how come you came to join the Orthodox Church.

About that time there was a serious dispute in the Episcopal Church over a certain Bishop Pike, who followed the idea of Arius and denied the Divine Sonship of Jesus Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. But when the Episcopal bishops tried to hold a heresy trial, they were unable to reach a decision, because many of them turned out to doubt the basic teachings of traditional Christianity. I found this deeply disturbing and began to feel that this could not be the “genuine Church”.

The Roman Catholic Church at that time was just in the throes of Vatican II, and it seemed as if they too did not know what they believed or where they were headed. A bit of study showed me that both the Catholics and Protestants had gone through “reformations” and changed the teachings that had been held by the Ancient Church.

How old were you when you became orthodox and who influenced you to take that step?

I had gone through all this study the year I was 16. In that time, I made up my mind that I wanted to be Orthodox, and I officially joined the Church the day after I turned 17.

I had been attending a Russian Orthodox parish in another town since the second half of May that year, going there every Sunday, and having reached my 17th birthday in December, I was received into the Orthodox Church the next day, which was a Sunday. It was a step I have never regretted!

Would you like to tell us a little bit about Greece and Russia.

I had discovered that language study was something that came easily to me, and that I enjoyed. In those days French and Latin were required school subjects, at least in our high school, and towards the end of my first year in high school, my best friend Dan Doghramadjian and I took a walk across the little town to a book shop where I found a “Modern Hebrew Phrasebook”. That struck me as something interesting, and it led to the study, first of Biblical Hebrew, then of Modern and Ancient Greek, and finally of Russian. Russian, in particular, was a language I seemed to take to, but later when I spent that summer in Greece, I began using the Greek I had learned. It was later that I discovered these languages helped me with the Orthodox Church, and many years later I learned I had both Greek and Russian relatives I had never known.

What made you join the ROCOR of all the Local Churches, even though , at the time, ROCOR was in a schism with all the other Local Churches?

This was in the years 1963 and 1964, and in fact, at that time ROCOR was not “in schism” with most of the other Orthodox Churches. The following year, in 1965, when Metropolitan Anastassy (who had led ROCOR since 1936) died, Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Archdiocese came to the ROCOR cathedral and led a memorial service at his bier, with both Greek and ROCOR clergy. But later there was a controversy over “ecumenism”, and the very striking (and confusing) embrace of Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI led many people, especially the more conservative, to back away from contacts with most of the other Orthodox.

Interesting to note, however, ROCOR always remained in full communion with the Serbian Orthodox Church as well as with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. So we did not feel we were “in schism”, although a spirit of unhealthy fanaticism was permitted to grow.

 

Could you, briefly, explain us how the process of reunification with ROC went

Over the years, from the later 1960’s to the early 21st century, the spirit of fanaticsm I mentioned above, grew and became more and more unpleasant. The details would fill a book, so I can only speak here in general terms. But when Mikhail Gorbachev became the new leader in the Soviet Union, he tried to make the country more democratic, and in particular he was opposed to the persecution of the Orthodox Church and of religion in general. This led to many people in ROCOR hoping that finally the tide had turned for the better.N

Through various channels, we began learning that in Russia, churches that had been closed for decades were being gradually reopened, that new churches were being built again, and even that long since destroyed churches and cathedrals, were being rebuilt down to the exact detail. Many of us were impressed that the great cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow was rebuilt and again open for worship. The Kazan cathedral in the former Leningrad, now once again called St. Petersburg, had been an antireligious museum since 1929, but now was returned to the Church and faithful and became a cathedral once again.

In 2003, Vladimir Putin visited the UN in New York, and asked if he could meet with Metropolitan Lavr. That meeting finally broke the ice between ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate, and it led to each “side” establishing a committee to hold dialogue with the other side, on the possibility of reconciliation. The two committees met and held discussions for the next 4 years, at the end of which, all the issues that had separated ROCOR and the official Russian Orthodox Church, had been resolved. In the meantime there were two major meetings within ROCOR: one was the Nyack Conference of December 2003, where I was one of the participants, and that led to the 4th All-Emigration Council that was held in San Francisco in the spring of 2006, where I was also a delegate. The outcome of these two meetings was that in ROCOR, the majority was ready for a full reconciliation with the Church in Russia. This finally came about on May 17, 2007, when on Ascension Day the reconciliation service took place in Moscow, with the concelebrated Liturgy by Patriarch Alexy II and Metropolitan Lavr. Again I was fortunate to be a participant.

You are in charge of Western Rite in Russian Church. Can you explain us a little bit about that rite and differences between everyday John Chrysostomos Liturgy and Western Rite Liturgy.

In my opinion, there is only one Orthodox Liturgy, but various “Typicons” with different details. The basic outline or structure of all the Orthodox Liturgies, those of St. John Chrysostom, of St. Basil, of St. James, and St.Mark and others, is one and the same. What is different, is that there are different chants, different litanies and exclamations, different choices of Epistle and Gospel, and so on.

I had learned that there is, in fact, a Liturgy of St. Peter, which is preserved in Church Slavonic in a manuscript Sluzhebnik of the Serbian Hilandar monastery on Mt. Athos, but it also exists in Greek and in Georgian. This Liturgy has the ancient Roman Eucharistic Canon (the same as in the Roman Mass), but set in the structure of the other Byzantine Liturgies. This Liturgy was at one time celebrated in many places once a year, on the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul. The fact that it became gradually more and more “Byzantinized” shows that it was, indeed, in use for centuries. This alone shows that the Latin Mass is not something “heterodox”, but was fully accepted as an Orthodox Liturgy. Much the same can be said of the ancient Western forms of Vespers, Matins, the Hours, Compline and so on.

You are known as a great slavist and supporter of Russians and especially Serbs. Tell us a little bit about your Slavism and your visit to Belgrade and also your relationship with Serbian bishops.

Of course, it was only in later life that my DNA was analyzed and showed that I do have some Slavic blood. But when I spent a summer studying in Munich, I was able to visit Beograd, where I had a happy and memorable visit, attended services in several Serbian Orthodox churches (Sveti Marko, the Patriarchal cathedral, the church in Kalemegdan, the Vaznesenska Crkva and others). I found that knowing Russian, I was able to begin picking up Serbian. Besides that, since the leadership of ROCOR (back in those days) included many bishops, clergy and others who had lived in Serbia and spoke Serbian, we always had a warm and fraternal relationship with the Serbs and the Serbian Church.

Even before our reconciliation with all the other Orthodox Churches in 2007, I had been privileged in 1992 to take part in a service with Patriarch Pavle on his visit to Milwaukee WI, where there are two large Serbian parishes (Sveti Sava and Sveti Nikola) that our ROCOR parish always had close relations with. Vladika Longin used to ask me to hear confessions at the Serbian clergy retreats, and I myself went to confession and for spiritual advice to the Serbian monastery in Third Lake WI. When, in 2006, I was away in San Francisco for the 4th ROCOR Clergy and Laity Sobor, Fr. Marko Todorovich from Sveti Nikola parish in Cudahy WI, was kind enough to take my place and lead services in the Russian parish till I could return.

As a man of great faith, could you give all of us a piece of spiritual advice.

I don’t think any of us should think we are “of great faith”! That is the path to self-deception! But we do need to be firm in our Orthodox faith, and firm in our loyalty to the Church.

Thank you Vladyka for this conversation, I wish you a long life and to continue your service to God for many more years.

Thank you, God bless you.

Conversation conducted by: Миљан Митић

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