Then Abraham answered and said, “Indeed now, I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord… (Genesis 18:27)
I love today’s episode from Genesis. It portrays Abraham as a bold intercessor before the Lord, who is fiercely angry and ready to destroy all of Sodom because of its great sinfulness. But Abraham takes courage and intercedes.
And Abraham came near and said, “Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?
“Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it?
“Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Abraham keeps pressing the Lord. Would You spare the city for forty righteous? For thirty? For twenty? For ten? And the Lord relents. Doesn’t take many righteous to secretly save a city.
The OCA and Moscow Patriarchate
Yesterday Archbishop Justinian of Naro-Fominsk, the Moscow Patriarchate’s representative in the United States, visited Metropolitan Tikhon to present an official invitation from Patriarch Kirill to celebrate the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus’ in 988. The events will take place in Moscow (Russia), Kyiv (Ukraine) and Minsk (Belarus) at the end of July.
Early this morning I spoke with Archimandrite Alexander (Pihach), the OCA’s representative in Moscow (Saint Catherine’s Church). We spoke about the July celebration and he gave me an update on his work. As a curious tidbit, he noted that there are some aspects of parish life that are unique to Russia. For example, the other day a local company delivered an entire pallet of little bottles of kvas to Saint Catherine’s, and to every parish in Moscow. For the uninitiated, kvas is a fermented beverage made from rye bread. Father Alexander said he distributed the bottles to parishioners as “a Lenten supplement!”
Below is a recent interview with Father Alexander.
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“The Patriarch told me not to forget to serve both the English speaking and the Russian speaking parishioners.” A Conversation with Archimandrite Alexander (Pihach), the Moscow representative of the OCA [Svetlana Vais, for portal-credo.ru]
“Portal-Credo.Ru”: Dear Father Alexander! I’d like to congratulate you with the beginning of your service and your arrival in Moscow. I think, the representative of the Orthodox Church in America to the Moscow Representation is one of the key posts in the administration of OCA, if only because the OCA is autocephalous in relationship to the Moscow Patriarchate.
But, meanwhile, not everyone in America knows how this Representation is structured, its status and how it is connected with the clergy and parishioners of the Moscow Church of St. Catherine the Great Martyr in the Fields, where it is located. I think that if you answer a few questions, it will be interesting for many Orthodox, both in America and in Russia.
Just what is the OCA representation in Moscow? Is it merely an office or the entire Church on Ordynka Street? How many people do you have on staff?
Archimandrite Alexander (Pihach): As an autocephalous Church, the OCA should have a Representation on the territory of its mother-Church, that is the ROC MP. To be more specific, this is the only OCA Representation in existence. The ROC made available to us the metochion and the parish of St. Catherine the Great Martyr in the Fields, where I serve simultaneously as priest-in-charge and the OCA’s representative. Moreover, the Moscow Patriarchate made an apartment available for the priest-in-charge; and the OCA’s office is in the metochion. In reality, here’s how it appears: parish life equips and finances parish and metochion life—and, there is a representative who is paid by the OCA. Actually, I am the only permanent representative. The other clerics and administrative staff are from Russia.
- I’d like to clarify a nuance which is of interest to all - does the OCA have property in the metochion?
- No, this Representation is free for us to use, but it belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate.
- Thank you. I get it. Thus it appears that you serve several bosses simultaneously; a conflict may arise between them, a conflict of interests.
- Well, it frequently happens just this way. I must consider OCA opinions and interests, those of the Moscow vicariate with which our parish has a relationship, and, of course, the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Affairs—that is, my direct leaders are the OCA’s Metropolitan Tikhon, ROC’s leader Patriarch Kirill, and we also have a working relationship with Metropolitan Hilarion [Alfeyev], with the vicariate and the dean of the Moscow Diocese, where the metochion is located.
- A question with the greatest interest: what is the relationship of a foreign priest-in-charge with a Moscow parish?
- Wonderful relations! There are no problems or questions which could not be resolved. I do understand and speak Russian. Moreover, I am not the only priest; there are local clerics from among the Moscow Patriarchal priests.
- And what is the Moscow parish’s reaction to church services conducted in English? BTW - how often do these take place?
- On Sundays. A great number of parishioners require prayers in their native English language, and some may use the possibility to hear and learn English through liturgical texts. As you may understand, aside from Russian-speaking Muscovites, our services are attended by English speaking Orthodox from America and Canada, by those who work and live in Moscow. And some time ago our parish was increased by children, at this point by grown children who lived in America during their childhood and have now returned to Russia once their parents fulfiled their American contracts. That is, these children know English and don’t want to lose it; they attend our parish for language practice. This is wonderful, considering the fact that the parish has English language courses. Even American tourists come here! Orthodox members of the OCA!
- Father Alexander, what is your status in Moscow - that of a diplomat or a representative of an American public organization? I have in mind - what questions are you authorized to resolve: only ecclesial ones or can you participate in some-sort of projects organized in Russia? Can US citizens in Russia turn to you for help - as to an embassy?
- I am in Russia on a ‘humanitarian visa’ which I received on the basis of an invitation by the Moscow Patriarchate. I would like to emphasize that the OCA did not send me as a representative; the Moscow Patriarchate invited me. It is somewhat inconvenient that while the visa is in effect for a year, the actual stay is limited to 90 days. But, that’s okay—I’ll get accustomed. Although I don’t have a diplomatic status, I work very closely with the embassies of those countries which have OCA parishes—these being the USA, Canada and Mexico. I am invited to all sorts of events which take place in these embassies; for this reason I really may be able to help citizens of these countries if something befalls them on Russian territory. I believe that our entire parish would respond to someone’s troubles. In any event, I do not have any moral right to refuse to help.
- And do you cooperate with other foreign religious groups working in Moscow?
- Of course! First of all, there is the friendship of American clergy. In Spaso-House (the home of the American ambassador in Moscow) from the times of Eisenhower—that is the 1940s, there has been a Protestant parish. But these days Moscow has Catholic and Lutheran and Anglican parishes—they’re all English speaking! We have developed wonderful relationships and we communicate.
- Have you been officially presented to the Moscow Patriarchate?
- The process of my being presented began with the Most Blessed Tikhon, Metropolitan of All America and Canada sending a letter to Patriarch Kirill of All Russia with recommendations. Some time passed; I went to Moscow, acquainted myself with he future site of my work, later consented. But I received Patriarch Kirill’s blessing just recently—in the Dormition Cathedral in the Kremlin. Our conversation was brief; it took place after the Patriarch served Liturgy—but, nevertheless, the Patriarch had time to tell me not to forget to serve (nourish) both the English speaking and the Russian speaking parishioners. The service in the Dormition Cathedral communicating with the Patriarch made a deep and pleasant impression on me.
- Did you have any experience working in the area of church diplomacy before arriving in Moscow?
- In general—no. But I did have administrative duties in the OCA [Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Canada] and, it seems, everything will go well.
- Do you have any personal or friendly contacts in the ROC?
- Of course, but not many.
- Do you believe the ROC MP administration has exhibited any interest in your numerically-small jurisdiction?
- Of course. They granted autocephaly and will always carefully watch what is happening. Moreover, the flow of Orthodox immigrants to America continues and somebody ought to nourish them.
- Perhaps ROCOR?
- All canonical Orthodox jurisdictions in North America.
- How did you learn Russian? Although I would say it is, to some degree, Ukrainian.
- My ancestors came to Canada from Austria-Hungary in 1890! So it turns out that we are the eighth generation of Orthodox Christians in Canada!
- Ukrainian Orthodox?
- No. The Russian Orthodox Church in North America always seemed more canonical to me. We all came from the Russian Orthodox Church.
- Were there other clerics in your family?
- No. I’m the only one. I am a product of the Orthodox Church in America and a student of one of its founders, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, as well as Fr. John Meyendorff.
- Did you manage to hear their lectures?
- Oh, yes!
- Had you been to Russia, particularly Moscow, before arriving here to work?
- Yes, but [only] as a guest. I went to Ukraine more often.
- How do you like the Capital? Would you be able to live here? Is there a chance that you’ll like it here so much that you’ll want to stay here forever?
- I like Moscow. It is a large city and it is interesting to live here. It is unlikely that I will want to stay here forever: Canada is still my homeland. But while I’m here - I am very aware that I am permanent representative of the Orthodox Church in America.
Interviewed by Svetlana Vais,