It is appropriate today that we should hear the Gospel of the Good Shepherd. It is appropriate, because today we, in the Russian Church outside of Russia, mourn the loss of our own good shepherd and are orphaned until one should be raised up to take his place. But who can take the place of our Metropolitan Laurus? Certainly, in our own minds, there is no one who can replace the loss of such a saintly man, such a kind and loving pastor, such an example of the Christian life.
Metropolitan Laurus embodied the qualities of a true and loving pastor – not just for his monks at Holy Trinity Monastery, where he was abbot; nor just for the Eastern American diocese of which he was ruling hierarch; but for the whole Church Abroad, and even in many ways for those in the Russian homeland. Vladyka Metropolitan was a quiet man, not given to epistles and speeches and the writing of books, but a man who lived the Christian life and by living it showed us how to do so as well. Metropolitan Laurus will be remembered most as the man responsible for bringing to an end the rift between the Russian Church inside Russia and the Russian Church outside Russia. This, however, is only the outer example of way that he led the Church in compassion and humility. First and foremost, the Metropolitan loved God – so much so that from the age of 5 he lived and worked within the monastic brotherhood of St Job of Pochaev – first in Ladimirovo and finally in Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville NY. He was a monk, that is one who has dedicated his whole life to Christ, forsaking even the world. Because of his burning love of our Lord Jesus Christ, Metropolitan Laurus grew in the spiritual graces and concurrently advanced in the grace of ordination. He lived through many stormy years in the life of the Church and yet he remained a strong and solid rock in the midst of that storm. He was able to do this because he had a deep and solid trust in God – and he also had a vision, a deep conviction of where God would lead His flock. Throughout his years as abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery, Vladyka Laurus worked to mitigate the extremes that had found their way into Church life. One always knew that Holy Trinity was a place were love and compassion ruled, not extremism and judgment. In this role he shaped generations of clergy who passed through the seminary there and who today fill the Church as pastors, some even as his fellow bishops. When Metropolitan Vitaly retired, Vladyka Laurus, although the senior of the bishops, sought to avoid being selected as First Hierarch, even suggesting that one of his juniors take that role – but that was not to be. All his life, Metropolitan Laurus had been prepared by God to be in that place at that time. Thus it was that he became First Hierarch of the Russian Church Outside of Russia.
Just as, in the past, Metr. Laurus had been an anchor in times of turmoil within the Church so now he found himself in the midst of one of the greatest conflicts in the life of the modern Church. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the Church in Russia became free of her former overlords and could again freely function. This was the time foreseen by the founders of the Russian Church Outside Russia when the Russian Church would reunite. The Church in Russia had grown strong and active and influential – but was the Church faithful to Christ? This is the question that plagued the relations between the two groups. Metropolitan Laurus knew that to lead the Church wisely he would have to know himself for certain whether this newly freed Moscow Patriarchate was really the true and faithful progeny of the Russian Orthodox Church – or was all the piety and pageantry nothing more than an empty show. He took the step that no other first hierarch had taken, he visited Russia. But he did not go as the First Hierarch, he did not even go as a bishop, but went in appearance as a simple monk priest giving his companions strict orders not to use his Episcopal titles during their travels. In this way he was able to see the heart of the Russian Church and saw that it was still sound and whole and that the resurgence of the Church in Russia was no sham or mockery, but was the true rebirth of the Church in Russia.
With this knowledge, Vladyka knew what he had to do. He knew that the time had come to bring the two parts of the Church together. He knew that he was in this place at this time by the hand of God for this purpose, to bring about the healing of the Russian Church. He launched into this task with fervor, but also with caution. Although he was certain in his heart that this was the path of God, he knew that there were many others in the Church who would resist. Because he was a man of great love and compassion for his flock, it was his desire that no one be left behind and so he moved slowly and deliberately, but always forward, headed towards the goal. This is the kind of leadership that he exhibited – that of iron clad trust in God and perseverance in following that path but that iron was clothed in the velvet of compassion and love desiring, as does our Lord, that no one be left behind, that no man be lost, but that all might come together into the Kingdom of Heaven.
His love for his flock was evident – not only to those within the Church outside Russia, but to all those in the Church. His love was returned by those whom he loved and when those in Russia saw that his love was not limited to his flock but to the whole of the Orthodox Christian people – indeed to the whole of mankind – they responded with their own love for him.
The life of Metropolitan Laurus became a testament of that of the good shepherd who gave his life for his flock. Vladyka Laurus did not save himself, but exhausted every last ounce of his energy in working for the welfare of the Church. He refused no one, he gave to all alike and when finally he had expended the very last of his strength, he lay down to sleep and gave his soul and his flock into the hands of the Great Shepherd who led him throughout his earthly life.
Who will replace our beloved shepherd? Who can fill his place? This we do not know, but what we do know is that the Great Shepherd – our Lord Jesus Christ – has not and will not abandon us and that He will give us a shepherd who has been raised up to take the burden of the care of this flock and lead us with that same love and compassion as our own dear departed Vladyka Laurus.
Archpriest David Moser
St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
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