Archpriest Serge Ledkovsky: "The Feast of the Baptism of Rus is a Symbol of Our Unity"
On the last Sunday of July, the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of the Baptism of Rus. In the United States, the main celebrations on this occasion are traditionally held at St Vladimir Memorial Church in Jackson, New Jersey. To learn more about how this event is celebrated, as well as why it is important for Russian America, the portal Orthodoxy.Ru spoke to the deputy rector of the church, Archpriest Serge Ledkovsky.
- Father Serge, how will you celebrate the 1035th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus?
- God willing, all-night vigil on Saturday and Divine Liturgy on Sunday will be served by the First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Metropolitan Nicholas (Olkhovsky) of Eastern America and New York. It is possible that Archbishop Gabriel of Canada and Archbishop Peter of Chicago and Central America will co-serve with him. Of course, we expect a lot of believers from all over the world.
We hold similar celebrations every year. To be honest, this time we are not focusing on the 1035th anniversary, although perhaps we should have done so. Usually we celebrate anniversaries every 25 years; God willing, we will celebrate the 1050th.
– This year is also the anniversary of your serminary; 85 years…
– Again, we do not emphasize this anniversary, although it is certainly good to acknowledge it. God willing, we will focus more on celebrating the 90th anniversary of the cathedral in five years.
– In your opinion, why is the celebration of the Baptism of Rus important for Russian America-especially in these difficult times?
– First of all, if we talk about difficult times, it is important for us to know our historical roots, the truth about them, to know what we inherited. Holy Prince Vladimir is the godfather of all Russia, and this goes beyond the current state and political borders. This is what unites us – or should unite us – as one people.
The Apostle Paul said that we, as Christians, are one people, where "there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all" (Colossians 3: 11). That's what we should be. And if we begin to think about this and understand that we need to live in Christ, then there will be no reason for conflicts and tragedies like now around Ukraine. This will simply not be possible, because we will feel like a single people. It is very important.
– What other events are planned for you as part of the celebration of the Baptism of Rus?
– In addition to all-night vigil and Divine Liturgy, we usually consecrate water on this day. Of course, there will also be a variety of cultural events. Representatives of Russian Cossack organizations will come from Philadelphia to demonstrate their art.
Monuments in Pushkin Park
In addition, this year we have opened the Pushkin Park of Russian Historical Glory, which is located opposite our church. There are about 30 monuments installed there, and I think it will be interesting for people who want to learn a little more about Russian history to visit them.
– Could you tell us about this park?
– In the beginning, these monuments were located on the territory of the Russian House "Rodina", which no longer exists. When it closed, curator Alexander Bondarev approached me about these monuments, and we kept them in our parking lot for about three years in the hope of acquiring a plot of land near us. As a result, a year ago it was presented to us by bequest, and we started work on installing monuments. Now it is, let's say, the pantheon of our cathedral, which is also a memorial temple.
– And what are the monuments in your park?
– There are a lot of historical figures there. In fact, this park is interesting for those who love Russian history. The monuments are very high-quality, they are installed in chronological order. Of course, we have inscriptions in both Russian and English – so that Americans can also understand everything.
St Alexander Nevsky, St Sergius of Radonezh, St Dimitry Donskoy, Ermak, Tsar Ivan III. There are monuments to Lermontov, Suvorov, Peter I, Catherine II, Feodor Ushakov – a Russian admiral who was canonized by the Church.
Of course, we have Pushkin, Generals Bagration and Barclay de Tolly, General Platov, Admiral Nakhimov, Sergei Witte, Tsar Alexander I, Tsar Alexander II and Tsar Alexander III are represented. And our own age is also represented here, there is even a monument to the musician and composer Vladimir Vysotsky.
We also have a monument titled "To the eternal memory of the Carpatho-Russian martyrs who suffered and died in Talegrof in the First World War". (Talegrof was a concentration camp created by the authorities of Austria-Hungary at the beginning of the First World War, where residents of Galicia and Bukovina were deported, suspected of sympathizing with the Russian Empire. They were tortured by Ukrainian nationalists, and emigrants erected a monument to them in 1964, when the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War was celebrated. It says that it was built by American Russia. It is arranged in the form of an obelisk - like a typical American monument, but it is crowned with an Orthodox cross.
– You have served in St Vladimir's Cathedral for many years. What does this ministry mean to you? What is your relationship with the Holy Prince Vladimir?
– We can say that we have a kind of double position. On the one hand, our church is an all-diaspora shrine, and on the other hand, we have a parish. Of course, we mostly lead a normal parish life, but at the same time we keep in mind that we have a certain responsibility – to be the trustees of this shrine, to maintain it with dignity.
Of course, we must remain Orthodox in every sense – both in our worldview and in our ministry. We need to carry out this special mission, which we received from Archbishop Vitaly (Maksimenko), who founded our church in 1938.
Vladyka Vitaly was a missionary. He called the American land American Russia. What does it mean? For us, Russian Orthodox people living here, this is American Russia, and we must protect our culture, preserve our Orthodox identity, and at the same time educate Americans by our very existence. We must open Orthodoxy to new people so that they can also come to our Church and, God willing, eventually to the Kingdom of Heaven.
We have such an important role, and this is my personal perception of serving here. All this goes back to Holy Prince Vladimir, who baptized and enlightened the people of Rus.