|His Beatitude, Metropolitan Nikolaj presents an icon to Metropolitan Herman at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy during the Consecration of St. Alexander of Neva Cathedral, Presov, Slovakia, September 26, 2004.|
SYOSSET, NY [OCA Communications]—- For the first time since his election and enthronement as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America in 2002, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman made an official visit to the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia at the invitation of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Nikolaj September 18-26, 2004.
The visit was one of several Metropolitan Herman has made to the world’s sister Orthodox Churches during the past two years and follows similar visits to the Churches of Constantinople, Russia, Georgia, Poland and Ukraine.
Tracing its roots to the missionary efforts of Saints Cyril and Methodius in the ninth century, Orthodox Christianity in the region eventually found a stronghold in Transcarpathia, or eastern Slovakia. In the mid-17th century, as a result of the Union of Uzhorod, the vast majority of the Orthodox population entered into union with Roman Catholicism, while retaining many Orthodox rites and customs.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries witnessed a revival of interest in the region’s traditional Orthodox Christian roots which ultimately led to the establishment of the region’s first modern Orthodox eparchy in Prague. In 1923, the Patriarchate of Constantinople granted autonomous status to the fledgling Church, while in 1930 the Patriarchate of Serbia established another eparchy in Presov.
After a two-decade period of growth, Orthodox Christianity in the region suffered tremendously during World War II. The Church’s primate, Bishop Gorazd [Pavlik] was arrested and ultimately martyred, while over 200 Orthodox clergy and officials were killed or deported to German prison camps and all Church properties were confiscated.
In 1946, the Orthodox Church in Czechoslovakia was placed under the Patriarchate of Moscow, which established an exarchate in Prague. Hundreds of Greek Catholic parishes were received into the Orthodox Faith in 1950, and the Church was granted autocephaly by the Patriarchate of Moscow the following year.
During the 1968 “Prague Spring” period of liberalization, many Orthodox parishes returned to Greek Catholicism; many others followed suit after the fall of communism in 1989, resulting in the loss of hundreds of properties. In the early 1990s, with the establishment of the Czech Republic and Slovakia as distinct nations, the Orthodox Church was reorganized into two metropolitan provinces with headquarters in Prague and Presov, each of which oversees two dioceses. In 1998, the Patriarchate of Constantinople issued a tomos recognizing the Church’s autocephalous status.
While many of the Church’s faithful are of Czech and Slovak descent, many of whom are converts to Orthodoxy, the demographic shifts experienced in the 1990s have brought hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Christians from the former Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine, the borderless “Roma,” or “gypsy,” state, and elsewhere into the region, presenting the struggling Church with new challenges and opportunities. Hundreds of new churches have been built or are currently under construction, and the uncertainties the Church experienced after the fall of communism have been replaced by the current period of restructuring and growth as an indigenous Church striving to maintain the vision and spirit of Saints Cyril and Methodius.
It was this lengthy and somewhat complex legacy that Metropolitan Herman witnessed from the moment of his arrival in Prague, where he was officially welcomed by His Eminence, Archbishop Krystof of Prague and the Czech Lands, on Saturday, September 18. The official OCA delegation accompanying the Metropolitan included His Grace, Bishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada; His Grace, Bishop Nikon of Boston; Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, OCA Chancellor; Archdeacon Alexei Klimitchev; Messrs. Peter Ilchuk and Mark Petasky, subdeacons; Mr. John Mindala, assistant to the OCA chancellor for communications; and Mr. David Wagschal, Secretary for the OCA Department of External Affairs. Also accompanying Metropolitan Herman were the Very Rev. Daniel Ressetar, rector of Christ the Savior Church, Harrisburg, PA and Mr. Martin Paluch.
Upon their arrival, Metropolitan Herman and members of the OCA delegation visited the Monastery of Saint Prokop of Sazava in Most, an increasingly active center for local Church-sponsored social and humanitarian efforts, and Holy Cross Church, Teplice, known for its classic baroque architecture and decoration. Metropolitan Herman was welcomed by Holy Cross rector, the Very Rev. Eugene Freimann, Teplice mayor Vera Smudzova, and parishioners.
Metropolitan Herman, Archbishop Krystof, and Bishops Seraphim and Nikon concelebrated the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, September 19, at Prague’s historic Saints Cyril and Methodius Cathedral. In his remarks at the conclusion of the Liturgy, Metropolitan Herman praised the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia in its valiant efforts to rebuild its spiritual and temporal life during the past decade. He presented Archbishop Krystof with relics of the American missionary, Saint Alexis Toth—a native of Slovakia’s Transcarpathian region—and with the Order of Saint Innocent, Silver Class. He also presented the Order of Saint Innocent, Bronze Class, to Protopresbyter Jaroslav Suvarsky, cathedral dean, and his wife Eva and presented humanitarian aid on behalf of the OCA faithful to the Church’s “Philanthropia” organization.
Following the Liturgy, Metropolitan Herman and the OCA delegation visited the well known Memorial of the Terror of Heydrich, housed in the cathedral crypt. In the early 1940s, anti-Nazi paratroopers had been hidden in the crypt with the blessing of the Orthodox Bishop Gorazd, who was subsequently canonized by the Church in 1987. When the paratroopers were discovered and arrested, Saint Gorazd offered to exchange his life for those of his compatriots and the many Orthodox Christians arrested with them; subsequently, he was imprisoned, tortured, subjected to a highly publicized show trial, and martyred.
Later the same day, Metropolitan Herman and the OCA delegation visited Holy Trinity Church, Rokycany , a recently established Roma, or “gypsy,” parish, where they were welcomed by the Rev. David Dudas. Defined as a “nation without borders” by the European Union in the 1990s, the Roma possess a unique culture and language and have been subjected to persecution and discrimination for centuries. During his visit, Metropolitan Herman venerated a wonderworking weeping icon of the Savior housed in the church.
From Rokycany, Metropolitan Herman and the OCA delegation were taken to Marianske Lazne, where they were welcomed at Saint Vladimir Church by the rector, the Very Rev. Josef Hauzar, clergy from numerous deanery parishes, and the faithful. They were also welcomed at the Moscow Patriarchate’s Representation Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Karlovy Vary, a city widely known for its spas and sanitoria, where they were welcomed by the Rev. Gennady Budko, dean.
Ambassador Bruce Jutzi and Counselor Olivier Nicoloff hosted Metropolitan Herman and the OCA delegation at the Canadian Embassy in Prague on Monday, September 20. During their visit, Metropolitan Herman spoke of the mission of the Orthodox Church in America and the Orthodox Church in the Czech Lands and Slovakia and discussed a number of far-reaching concerns, from poverty and substance abuse to trafficking in persons. Areas of collaboration between the OCA and the Czech-Slovak Church were also highlighted. Similar concerns were discussed during a visit to the US Embassy in Prague, at which Metropolitan Herman and the OCA delegation were received by Ambassador William J. Cabaniss. Earlier in the day, Metropolitan Herman and delegation members visited the Church of Saint George the Great Martyr at the Russian Embassy, where they were welcomed by the Rev. Nicholas Lishenyk and Counselor Anatoli V. Agapov.
In the afternoon, Metropolitan Herman and the OCA delegation traveled to Vilemov, where they were received at the Dormition Monastery by His Grace, Bishop Simeon of Olomouc and Brno, Igumena Alexia, and Mr. Roman Juriga, directory of Vilemov’s Orthodox center. During the past decade, the center has become an important venue for youth conferences, educational symposia, and gatherings focusing on a wide range of disciplines, from ecological concerns to iconography. On behalf of the OCA faithful, Metropolitan Herman presented the monastic sisterhood with a wealth of humanitarian aid for use in their regional and international charitable ministries.
Before their departure, Metropolitan Herman and delegation members met with the President of the Ecumenical Council of Churches of the Czech Republic, Bishop Vladislav Volny of the Silesian Evangelical Church, and the Chairman of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Jan Graubner of Olomouc.
On Tuesday, September 21, the old calendar Great Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, the Cathedral of the Holy Martyr Vaclav, Brno, Czech Republic, was filled to capacity as Metropolitan Herman and Bishops Simeon, Seraphim and Nikon concelebrated the Divine Liturgy, after which the Metropolitan presented Bishop Simeon with the Order of Saint Innocent, Silver Class, and relics of Saint Alexis Toth. Following the Liturgy, Metropolitan Herman and the OCA delegation met with Brno city starosta Josef Kamenicek and visited city hall, where they were received by Rostislav Slavotinek, Brno deputy mayor.
Later the same day, Metropolitan Herman and his entourage visited Saint Gorazd Monastery, Hruba Vrbka, the saint’s birthplace, where they were received by Igumen Joachim, and the Mikulcice Valy National Cultural Monument, an archeological site marking the capital of Saint Rostislav’s Greater Moravian Empire and the center of Saint Methodius’ mission. The site boasts the remains of numerous ancient churches, the region’s earliest.
On Wednesday, September 22, Metropolitan Herman and the OCA delegation traveled to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, where they met with the chairman of the Slovak Parliament, Pavol Hrusovsky, and the head of the Slovak president’s office, Milan Cic. At the US Embassy, Metropolitan Herman was received by Ambassador Ronald Weiser. During their meeting, Metropolitan Herman discussed cooperative efforts and witness on the part of the OCA and the Church in Slovakia and related topics of mutual concern. Later the same day, they visited the Church of Saint Rostislav, where they were received by the Very Rev. Jozef Havercak and many Orthodox faithful.
His Beatitude, Metropolitan Nikolaj, Primate of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, and the Holy Synod of Bishops welcomed Metropolitan Herman and the OCA delegation in Presov, Slovakia on Thursday, September 23. During the formal synodal session, numerous reports on various aspects of the life of the Czech-Slovak Church and the OCA were exchanged. Common missionary concerns were shared, with an emphasis on the rebuilding of the Church throughout the region and the financial burdens faced in building over 100 new churches designed to replace properties lost after the fall of communism. The pressing need to address a growing number of social ills and moral challenges were also highlighted.
After a press conference and visit to Metropolitan Nikolaj’s residence and chapel of the Holy Cross, Metropolitan Herman visited the Presov Orthodox Theological Faculty, which at present has an enrollment of over 500 students. Protopresbyter Peter Kormanik, dean, welcomed Metropolitan Herman, who addressed the faculty and students and met with representatives of the Church’s vibrant youth movement. A meeting with Presov Mayor Milan Benc followed.
On Friday, September 24, Metropolitan Herman and delegation members visited Kobylnica, site of the birth and baptism of Saint Alexis Toth, where they were received by the Very Rev. Nicholas Lazor. After a visit to Holy Trinity Church, Svidnik, where they were welcomed by the Very Rev. Jan Sovic, they continued to Medzilaborce, where the Rev. Jan Feckanic and parishioners received them at Holy Spirit Church. In the same town, they visited Saint Nicholas Orphanage, where the director, Margita Dordova and chaplain, the Rev. Andrei Gont, were delighted to receive humanitarian aid packages donated by OCA faithful.
Later the same day, Metropolitan Herman and the OCA delegation visited the Church of the Ascension in Strazske, where they met the Rev. Michael Dzugan and mayor Jan Tejgi and local faithful. In Michalovce, they visited Saints Cyril and Methodius Secondary Trade School before celebrating a Service of Prayer in the city’s Saints Cyril and Methodius Cathedral. The Very Rev. Stefan Jovkaj, dean, and Michalovce mayor Jozef Bobik welcomed them warmly, as did the Very Rev. Ladislav Fedor, director of the diocesan chancery office. A visit to Saint Vladimir Church, Sobrance, followed, at which Metropolitan Herman and his entourage were welcomed by the Rev. Bogoslav Senic.
The Protection of the Holy Virgin Church, Kosice, was filled beyond capacity as Metropolitan Herman and His Grace, Bishop Jan of Michalovce concelebrated the Divine Liturgy on Saturday, September 25. The Metropolitan and OCA delegation were welcomed by the Very Rev. Kiral Ladislav, rector. At the conclusion of the Liturgy, Metropolitan Herman presented Bishop Jan with the Order of Saint Innocent, Silver Class, and relics of Saint Alexis Toth. The remainder of the day was devoted to meetings with Kosice mayor Zdenko Trebula and the region’s vice-governor, Michael Ilko.
On Sunday, September 26, Metropolitans Nikolaj and Herman and Bishops Seraphim, Jan and Nikon concelebrated the Rite of Consecration and Divine Liturgy, together with Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick and the Very Rev. Michael Swaiko, dean, and dozens of local clergy at the recently expanded Cathedral of Saint Alexander of Neva in Presov. A group of OCA faithful from the Cleveland, OH area who visiting family members in the region also participated in the consecration and Liturgy, after which Metropolitan Herman was awarded the Order of Saints Cyril and Methodius, First Class, the Medal of the Orthodox Theological Faculty, and an icon of All Saints of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. Metropolitan Herman presented Metropolitan Nikolaj with the Order of Saint Innocent, Gold Class, relics of Saint Alexis Toth, and an icon of Saints Nicholas, Herman and Alexis. A formal reception attended by national and regional government officials and religious leaders, faculty and students of the theological faculty, and cathedral benefactors and parishioners followed.
Before Metropolitan Herman’s departure to the US on Monday, September 27, he and Metropolitan Nikolaj issued a joint communiqué.
“The Orthodox Church in America and the Orthodox Church in the Czech Lands and Slovakia share a deep spiritual legacy,” the communiqué opened. “It was in America that thousands of emigrants from the Czech Lands and Slovakia found the truth of our Holy Orthodox faith. When many of these emigrants returned to their homeland, they brought with them the light of this faith and contributed greatly to the renewal of Orthodoxy on their native soil.
“One of these emigrants, Saint Alexis Toth, as a priest and good shepherd, set the hearts of his countrymen aflame for the Orthodox faith and led thousands into communion with the Holy Orthodox Church,” the communiqué continued. “He is revered today as a missionary to both America and the Czech and Slovak republics. As a sign of the deep love that unites our Churches, Metropolitan Herman has presented all the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church in the Czech Lands and Slovakia with relics of Saint Alexis.
Today, our communities, as local autocephalous churches striving to witness to the Gospel of Christ in our unique but related contexts, are eager to further strengthen the bonds of love and faith that unite us through a program of increased contact and cooperation.
The communiqué went on to list a number of areas of “mutual interest and Concern,” including the need for greater mutual familiarization between the Orthodox Church in America and the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia; the need to address common pastoral challenges through joint seminars, academic conferences, and exchanges between the faithful of the two Churches; and the need to promote exchanges and ministries related to religious education, youth ministry, environmental stewardship, mission, justice issues, and humanitarian and charitable endeavors.
“Throughout the visit, the delegation of Metropolitan Herman was cordially received by government representatives of both the Czech and the Slovak Republics as well as by the Ambassadors of the United States of America and Canada,” the communiqué concluded. “Discussions on a wide range of topics indicated a substantial interest on the part of civil and church authorities to build an active working relationship in addressing many of the social and moral issues of our time.”
The complete text of the joint communiqué may be found on the OCA web site and will appear in the October-November 2004 issue of “The Orthodox Church” newspaper.
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