ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF THE ECCLESIASTICAL MISSION IN JERUSALEM UNDER THE RUSSIAN CHURCH ABROAD
Priest Roman Gul’tyaev
Father Roman Gul’tyaev was born in Leningrad in 1977. Since the age of 12 he has lived in Jerusalem. He graduated from Jerusalem University and Moscow Theological Academy. In 2017, he was ordained by Metropolitan Hilarion, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, to serve at the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem (Abroad) in the Holy Land.
- It is often thought that after World War I and the Revolution, all the way until 1948, the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem did not exist, that there was a gap. What actually existed here before the late 1940’s?
- Symbolically, we are talking about 29 November, when we celebrated the centennial of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem as part of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Today in our churches in the Holy Land a moleben was served. Why this date specifically?
We know that all Russian people who found themselves abroad after the Revolution were cut off from Russia. By the end of the Civil War, it was clear that the former Russia no longer existed, and Russian emigres remained as fragments of the old Russia. Ambassadors, consuls, consulate staffs, church figures of the missions of various nations remained in place. They were all left without their country and without ultimate leadership.
The Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in the Holy Land was in the same predicament. It is important to define terms: what do we mean by the “Russian Ecclesiastical Mission?” It can simply be viewed as an administrative structure of the Russian Church in the Holy Land, or more broadly, as a body of emissaries of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russia, sent abroad for educational work. There were missions in Japan, China, the USA, and of course in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Mission expressed Russian interests and hopes, the organizer of educational projects. If one views the Mission as a collection of Russian people found in the Holy Land, then one can include those who lived here after 1914. These numbered in the thousands. They came here primarily as pilgrims before the First World War, but then were forced to stay. They were all on the territory of a nation which went to war against Russia, because the Holy Land at the time was part of the Ottoman Empire. In fact, they were prisoners.
The Ottoman authorities evacuated Russian subjects from Jerusalem, sending them either to Alexandria, Egypt, or to Constantinople. Mainly elderly women remained in Jerusalem, whose health would not permit them to travel. The Turkish state in Jerusalem allowed them to remain (this was at the end of 1914). The Russian consulate, members of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission and the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society were evacuated. The Chief of the REM, Archimandrite Leonid (Sentsov) will all his brethren also left Jerusalem and made their way to Alexandria.
Disasters and plagues befell Jerusalem. In 1916, a cholera epidemic broke out. Several nuns of Gorny Convent died in a short time. But there was no lack of miracles: the nuns prayed all night in the Kazan Church of the Mother of God, and the epidemic vanished from the convent. This Kazan icon is to this day especially revered at the monastery.
In Alexandria, the Imperial Consulate provided for the support of all the members of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission. In 1916, there were around 300 Russians in the city. Those who went to Constantinople were imprisoned for a short time and were able to travel to Russia. The Chief of the Mission, Fr. Leonid, went to Moscow to attend the All-Russian Council of 1917, but soon died there. He was replaced by Hegumen Melety (Rozov), who had gone to Jerusalem from Valaam Monastery in 1909. Fr Melety was the most senior priest of the Mission, so after Archimandrite Leonid’s death, he took over his responsibilities.
Jerusalem was emancipated by the English at the end of World War I, and in 1919, the refugees were able to return. The first members of the Russian Mission from Alexandria to return was Fr Melety and his Hierodeacon Serafim (Sendetsky), provided with papers from the Russian Consul in Alexandria, AA Smirnov.
During the World War, Russian property in the Holy Land was under the care first of the Italian consul, then of the American consul. They tended to the Russian women who could not leave and lived in the Russian monasteries. Incidentally, the American consul tried to evacuate them to Alexandria: his correspondence with the Russian emissary in Egypt of 1915-1916 exists. They wanted to send the women to Egypt via ship, but at the last moment the latter ran away because rumor had it that they were to be drowned. Eventually only a few women boarded ship, the others escaped when they were already at the port. The consul then refused to care for them, and they were left to their own devices.
When Fr Melety returned, he received the keys to the Russian representative offices from the Spanish consul (who took over affairs from the American consul), and since April 1919, the Mission began its new life. But they immediately faced problems, because lenders demanded that Fr Melety return money borrowed by his predecessor, Fr Leonid. He needed the funds from the loan to build pilgrimage houses on new parcels of land. When Fr Melety realized that the Mission was bankrupt, he wanted to return to his home monastery in Valaam. If in Alexandria he had not yet expressed this notion, here at least he understood how impossible the situation was-to operate an enormous structure which was indebted to everyone. People visited him and told him that they had not been paid in many years, and wanted payment in full immediately. But were was he to obtain such money? Only by renting out property of the Mission. These were former pilgrim hostels, where thousands had traveled before the war, and the Mission would house them there. During the war, these premises were occupied by the Turkish army, then by the English. It was necessary to obtain rent payments from them. Fr Melety began the effort in 1919, but no one wanted to pay him much; his status was ambiguous-he was recognized, and at the same time he wasn’t. Naturally he sought support. There was no contact with Patriarch Tikhon, physically, because of the front lines of the Civil War. He wrote to the brethren in Valaam, explaining what had happened. He sent letters to those Russian bishops who were in the south of Russia: he had been writing to them even before they departed from Crimea to Constantinople via ship and established, on board, the Supreme Ecclesiastical Authority Abroad (SEAA).
As soon as the members of the SEAA arrived in Constantinople, letters began to reach them from Fr Melety. During a meeting of the SEAA on November 29, 1920, exactly 100 years ago, Russian bishops finally deliberated on Fr Melety’s appeals. He was not seeking help in resolving problems, but simply that they release him as Acting Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem, and send a replacement. The bishops responded that they are confirming him as Acting Chief and did not wish to relieve him of his duties, however, they promised to seek a replacement to manage Russian affairs in the Holy Land. This decision marks the beginning of the history of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission of the Russian Synod Abroad. From this moment, the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission in Jerusalem becomes part of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
- Fr Melety, it seems, did not want power and administrative responsibilities at all.
- He shied away from duties, because the problems grew worse. On one hand, he had to pay off debts, on another, Jerusalem Patriarch Damian wished to take the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission under his own wing.
This conflict between the Russians and Greeks dated back to the middle of the 19th century. Russians tried to preserve their own autonomy, while the Patriarch of Jerusalem strove to take control. During World War I, it turned out that there was no longer a consulate, no Ecclesiastical Mission, and yet the Patriarch was still there. He wanted all Russian property in Jerusalem, the churches, monasteries and all Russian subjects to be submitted to his authority. That is how Patriarch Damian saw things.
Why didn’t this happen? Because when Fr Melety returned he was very firm in his policy of maintaining the autonomy of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission. Of course, he recognized the supreme authority of the Jerusalem Patriarch, but he still preserved fealty to the Russian Church.
The person who started helping Fr Melety resolve these problems was Vladyka Anastassy (Gribanovsky), a very experienced hierarch and administrator, who would later become First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad after the death of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky). In 1921, he spent almost the entire summer in Jerusalem, trying to solve these problems-the debts, relations with the British government and the Greek Patriarchate, and mainly ensuring the well-being of the locals.
In 1923 came a new calamity. The British government recognized the Soviet regime in Russia, and in London, the Soviets opened a representative office. The Lenin government demanded that the English turn over all Russian properties in the Holy Land (the “Krasin note”). It became clear that the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission could lose everything: the anti-church laws of the Soviet government were well known to all. Thank God, the English responded with a refusal, arguing that all Russian property in the Holy Land is religious in character, and that what was happening to religion in Soviet Russia was well established. Thus, the transfer of religious property to an anti-religious regime was not even subject to discussion.
- How did relations develop in the 1920’s and 1930’s between the Russian Church Abroad and the Jerusalem Patriarch?
- Jerusalem Patriarch Damian was an advocate of friendship with the Russian Church in Russia. He supported Patriarch Tikhon; we have correspondence between the two. He was friends with Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky). During the war, he spoke out in defense and protector of Russians in Jerusalem.
The conflict began when Russian Bishop Apollinary (Koshevoy) moved to Jerusalem on a permanent basis. In 1921, Archbishop Anastassy (Gribanovsky) came for an inspection, and the Greeks welcomed him very well, and he performed divine services at the Sepulcher of the Lord. But in 1923, the Synod appointed Bishop Apollinary to permanent residence in Jerusalem. This did not please Patriarch Damian at all.
Relations between the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission and the Patriarchate were damaged by Hegumen Serafim (Kuznetsov), who in 1921 brought the relics of Grand Duchess Elizabeth to Jerusalem. He and Patriarch Damian had already known each other, so in Jerusalem, Fr Serafim considered himself a guest of the Patriarch. Meanwhile, the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission saw him as a clergyman of the Russian Church. Apparently, Fr Serafim wished to preserve his independence: he had a conflict with the Mission over the Church of St Mary Magdalene. In the end, Bishop Apollinary forbade Fr Serafim from serving as a result of his independent behavior and unwillingness to submit to the Chief of the Russian Mission. Patriarch Damian restored his rights and even awarded him. Of course, he no longer served in Russian churches, but with the Greeks. Afterwards, the Patriarch demanded that the Russian bishop leave Jerusalem. This was not surprising, because the Jerusalem Greeks historically resisted the presence of a Russian hierarch on their canonical territory.
- How was it that Vladyka Anastassy could live here for years and never received a decree from the Jerusalem Patriarch that he needed to leave his territory? Was it a diplomatic grant or their friendship? Koshevoy couldn’t stay, no one in the 19th century could, but Vladyka Anastassy was able to, which then established the tradition for the next 100 years that the Russian Church Abroad had a bishop who on behalf of the Synod oversaw the affairs of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission?
- First of all this was due to the authority and diplomatic skill of Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky). He would travel to Jerusalem after the conflict with Bishop Apollinary to make peace, and to once again assure the Patriarch that we are not insisting on the permanent residence of a Russian bishop in Jerusalem, but very much wish that one of the Russian hierarchs would oversee the matters of the Mission. So gradually, he was able to reassure the Patriarch. It may be that he already said in advance that this bishop would actually be Archbishop Anastassy. So from 1924-1934, the latter was the constant overseer.
But there were fairly long periods when the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission was led solely by the Chief of the Mission, without the oversight of a bishop. So it was during the epoch of Fr Dimitry (Byakai): he answered directly to the Synod Abroad. And under Archimandrite Antony (Sinkevich), Metropolitan Anastassy explicitly corresponded with him on a regular basis, already as First Hierarch.
- After 1948, the Russian Mission of the Moscow Patriarchate emerged, first called by another name. Which is the real one? How was this viewed on the part of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, by church historians?
- The pretensions of the Soviet Union on church property on the territory of Palestine existed as early as 1923. True, in 1924, the English issued a decree on charitable foundations, and all the property of the Mission and the Orthodox Palestine Society was recognized as charitable, that is, connected to religious service, and not for the generation of revenue. So it was categorized as land under the protection of the British government. No one could sell or confiscate these lands. Therefore, when the Soviet side raised questions of property, this had to be decided on the level of the British government.
This matter was raised again in 1943. After the Tehran Conference, the Deputy People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, IM Maysky, came to Jerusalem and visited the Russian monasteries. And the fact of the matter was that it became clear that the Soviets would establish a representation in the Holy Land. This was well understood, too, by the Greek clergymen in Jerusalem, and by the Russian Mission.
After the election of Patriarch Alexy (Simansky) and his visit to Jerusalem in 1945, the Jerusalem Patriarch Timotheos received and recognized the Patriarch of Moscow. The i’s were dotted after the Arab-Jewish War of 1948, and the government of Israel was established, when the territory of British Palestine was divided between the Kingdom of Jordan and the Israeli government, which immediately established relations with the Soviet Union. Jerusalem was also divided in half: the East was under Jordan, and the West under the state of Israel.
The leadership of the Russian Mission made its way to Jordanian territory. Some as refugees, some for political purposes, some simply found themselves in the eastern part after the borders were drawn, such as the Russian monasteries on the Mt of Olives and in Gethsemane.
- That is, Jordanians recognized the Mission Abroad, and the Israelis--Moscow?
- Yes, in the summer of 1948, representatives of the Moscow Patriarchate came to Jerusalem and were recognized by the Israelis as representatives of the Russian Church. The State of Israel was young, just established, and nothing that preceded 1948 in the Holy Land meant anything to them. So in divided Jerusalem, there became two Missions. In order to discern between the two, they were called the “Red” and “White” Churches.
- What was the problem with the official names of the Missions? In 1948, the representation of the Moscow Patriarchate was called not the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission, but the “Russian Orthodox Ecclesiastical Mission of the Moscow Patriarchate in Palestine.”
- Apparently, in 1948 they did not understand the principle importance of historical names. There were no legal battles over the right of succession of pre-Revolutionary and contemporary organizations. It was important to stress that it was the Moscow Patriarchate, that the organization that arrived here in 1948 from Moscow was under the protection of the Moscow Patriarch.
- They probably could not claim the legal status of an existing organization, the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission?
Yes, legally Israel did not recognize the Moscow Mission in 1948 as a successor to the same pre-Revolutionary Mission. They had the legal status of a foreign religious organization in Israel. But later, too, it was not recognized as a legal successor. Yet the Israelis did not recognize the Mission Abroad as the historic successor to the pre-Revolutionary Russian Ecclesiastical Mission, either.
After World War II and the move of the Synod of the Russian Church Abroad to America, it received the legal status of an American corporation. For the Israelis, the Russian Mission of the Church Abroad was-legally-a representative of an American corporation. On this basis, the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission enjoyed official legal status. But this was already after the unification of Jerusalem as a result of the Six-Day War of 1967.
After 1967, for Israel, on a legal basis, there was a Soviet church representation, and representatives of an American ecclesiastical structure.
- Did the English during the British Mandate recognize the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission and the Orthodox Palestine Society specifically as the successors to the pre-Revolutionary organizations?
- For the English it was in general important to demonstrate that they were here temporarily and could not make judgments on such matters. As is the case in fact with any provisional government. Meanwhile, as they left Palestine, one of the final British decrees was on the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission: they recognized the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission and the Orthodox Palestine Society as legal entities. This was the result of the efforts of Vladyka Anastassy. He tirelessly and actively worked with the English towards this result. But this decree was not recognized by Israel.
- Let’s talk about the “Orange Deal” of 1964, the sale by the Soviet Union of Russian property to Israel. Does it still have legal status?
- We’ll begin by saying that it wasn’t simply a so-called “Orange Deal.” This was an agreement between the USSR and Israel in 1964, essentially, not a legal contract: this was an international accord. Meanwhile, it violated all legal principles that existed even then.
When this agreement was to be executed, the representative of the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to do so. Even the ambassador of the Soviet Union to Israel refused. It was signed by representatives of the Israeli MFA on behalf of the Soviet MFA.
- What was the reaction of the Russian Church Abroad?
- As soon as society learned of the preparation for this deal, of course, the Church Abroad learned of it as well. By the way, Israeli jurists and lawyers themselves contacted the Synod and offered their services to place the deal in doubt. Gradually, the noisy process of the rights of the REM of ROCOR to historically Russian lands in the Holy Land began.
- As far as I understand, the Chief of the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission of the Church Abroad, Archimandrite Anthony (Grabbe, 1968-2006) was able to obtain a court decision on recognizing that the “Orange Deal” was unlawful and received a settlement.
- Yes, Archimandrite Anthony exerted a great deal of effort in this. Being very charismatic by nature, he was able to unite two “competing” structures-the Orthodox Palestine Society and the Russian Ecclesiastical Mission, under the auspices of the Synod Abroad, which had legal status. He headed both organizations and sued the government of Israel on behalf of both. In 1985, an Israeli court recognized the “Orange Deal” unlawful, and the transfer of Russian property in 1964 as illegitimate.
Grabbe had a very good lawyer-Mendel Scharf. He was a renowned Israeli attorney who before moving to private practice held high positions in the Israeli government. Wherever the ideas of Archimandrite Anthony are referenced, Mendel Scharf was behind them. So receiving compensation for the historically Russian church lands was the accomplishment of an Israeli lawyer.
In the end, the Russian Church Abroad received 7 million dollars in the late 1980’s-more than Khrushchev did after 1964 (4.5 million, mostly in the form of oranges). But money is not the issue, but in the recognition: Israel accepted the rights of the Church Abroad, and not the Soviet government, to these lands. This was very important-to receive recognition, which remains to this day.
- In 2007, Eucharistic communion was reestablished between the Russian Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate. But the autonomy of the Church Abroad survives. In the Holy Land, then, there are two Missions today. How different are they in their service?
- The reestablishment of Eucharistic communion became of the greatest importance to the Church Abroad and the Russian Mission in Jerusalem. The artificial political antagonism and division which the Soviet anti-ecclesiastical propaganda incurred, indubitably, was sharply felt in Jerusalem. Especially after the formation of the government of Israel, when two Russian Missions suddenly came into being, the “Red” and the “White.” I remember when we arrived in Jerusalem in 1989, as a 13-year-old boy, not suspecting that I am doing something “wrong,” I attended the Church of St Mary Magdalene of the Church Abroad. The following week I prayed at Holy Trinity Cathedral of the Moscow Patriarchate. Having found out, the nuns from St Mary Magdalene Convent told me that the priests at Holy Trinity Cathedral were wearing government epaulets under their vestments. Meanwhile, the nuns of Gorny Convent warned me that I could not attend St Mary Magdalene Church, since there were “schismatics without grace there.”
Following the reconciliation of 2007, we now have the opportunity to pray together in the Church of the Sepulcher of the Lord, where beforehand (since the post-War period), bishops and priests from the Church Abroad were not permitted to serve. Now we serve together in all the Russian churches in the Holy Land. The nuns of our monasteries meet and celebrate holidays together. Both Missions receive and minister to countless pilgrims from all over the world. Of course, we’d like to have more joint projects and mutual cooperation in all areas.
Naturally, there are differences between us. The Russian Mission of the Moscow Patriarchate primarily performs representative functions: it represents the Moscow Patriarchate in the Holy Land. It is involved in Church politics, relations with the Jerusalem Patriarchate, relations with the Israeli government. These are “diplomatic” functions, ecclesio-diplomatic. Clergymen are appointed here exclusively from Moscow.
The Russian Church Abroad has other functions, a different background. I think that mostly it sees itself as an institution of the people. Of course, we have an administrative role, but it was never very powerful. As in any other country of the world, the Russian Church Abroad receives all people in the Holy Land, whether citizens of Russia and Ukraine, America or Israel or Palestine. Naturally, we observe canonical norms (we are after all on the territory of the Jerusalem Patriarchate), but within this framework we try to minister to everyone who comes to us.
Jerusalem is a small city, and the Holy Land isn’t big, either. How things develop (along with mutual relations) of the Russian Missions, history will show. But most importantly, we must respect each other.
Interviewed by Deacon Alexander Zanemonets
15 December 2020