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Repose of His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

On 16 March 2008, the Feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus reposed peacefully in his sleep. Many will find great significance in the fact that he who restored unity between the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church reposed on this very day, the Triumph of Orthodoxy, when we commemorate the restoration of the icons.

Metropolitan Laurus was born on 1 January 1928 in Ladomirova in Slovakia to Mikhail and Elena Shkurla. He was named Vasily in honour of St Basil the Great, whose feast falls on this day. He was by nationality a Lemko, that is to say, he belonged to the westernmost branch of the Carpatho-Russian people, who populate Presov Rus in north-eastern Slovakia and south-eastern Poland.

At the age of 5, the future Metropolitan began serving in the altar on feast-days at the church of the Monastery of Saint Job of Pochaev in Ladomirova, which served and still serves as the parish church for the local Orthodox. When he was 8, his mother passed away and the future Metropolitan asked the Abbot of the Monastery to accept him as a novice. His father gave him permission and the young Vasily joined the monastery aged 11. After entering the Monastery, he continued his obligatory secondary education, going to and from school in the local town of Svidnik on a bicycle which the monastery had bought for him. While attending school, he also participated in the life of the Monastery, rising everyday at 4.00 a.m. for the Midnight Office and taking part in the other Divine Services. Archimandrite Kyprian (Pyzhov), later iconographer at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville N.Y., played an important role in the future Metropolitan’s education.

In 1944, with the Red Army swiftly approaching, the Brotherhood of the Monastery evacuated to the Slovak Capital in Bratislava. The Brotherhood then went to Germany and Switzerland. It was in Geneva that the future Metropolitan Laurus, at the age of sixteen, became a novice. In 1946, the brotherhood emigrated to the United States and joined the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York. In 1947, while still a novice, Vasily graduated first class from Holy Trinity Seminary. In March 1948 he was tonsured riassophore monk, in 1949 to the small schema and in 1950 he was ordained to the diaconate and in 1954 to the priesthood.

In 1959 Fr Laurus became Igumen and in 1966 Archimandrite. In 1967 he was consecrated to the episcopate as Bishop of Manhattan and appointed secretary of the Synod of Bishops. In 1976, on the repose of Archbishop Averky, the Brotherhood of St Job of Pochaev elected Bishop Laurus Abbot of the Monastery. Thus, he was appointed Bishop of Syracuse and Holy Trinity and Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery. In 1981, he became Archbishop and as such he led many pilgrimages to the Holy Land and travelled extensively throughout the Orthodox world (including making several pilgrimages to Mt Athos) and in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. As Abbot of the Monastery, Vladyka Laurus dedicated much time to the Monastery's publishing endeavours, fulfilling the Brotherhood's missionary purpose.

In the summer of 2001, the elderly Metropolitan Vitaly (Ustinov) retired through ill health. In October 2001 the Council of Bishops of the Church Outside Russia elected - on the first ballot - Archbishop Laurus as the new Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York and First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Two years later the Metropolitan was to open negotiations with the Patriarchate of Moscow, so that the two parts of the Russian Church could enter into canonical communion. These negotiations were successful and on Ascension Day, 17 May 2007, they were crowned with success and a great act of concelebration and communion took place in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow.

Metropolitan Laurus leaves two brothers and a sister in Slovakia, whom he had been hoping to visit in May this year. It is now Archbishop Hilarion who acts as locum tenens of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, which mourns a true monk, of sixty years, and a great man, whose name has already gone down in Church history. As for us orphaned members of the Church, we weep for ourselves, but rejoice for him:

To His Eminence the Most Reverend Metropolitan Laurus – Eternal Memory!

May his memory be from generation unto generation!

Priest Andrew Phillips,
East Anglia.

16 March 2008

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