Metropolitan Herman concludes official visit to Orthodox Church of Poland

The massive Cathedral of Saint Mary Magdalene here was filled to capacity on the evening of September 4, 2003, as His Beatitude, Metropolitan Herman and His Beatitude, Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw and All Poland attended a Service of Thanksgiving marking the beginning of Metropolitan Herman’s first official visit to Poland.

The visit to Poland was one of several similar visits Metropolitan Herman has made to sister Orthodox Churches, including those of Constantinople, Russia and Ukraine, since his election as Primate of the Orthodox Church in America in July 2002.

During his welcoming remarks, Metropolitan Sawa noted the close relationship that has developed between the Orthodox Churches of Poland and America in recent years. Metropolitan Herman remarked that many OCA faithful trace their ancestry to Poland, and that numerous hierarchs and clergy, including the late Metropolitan Ireney [Bekish] and Archbishop Kiprian [Borisevich] served the Polish Church before emigrating to the US in the mid-1900s. He also recalled that before Saint Tikhon’s tenure as Archbishop of North America, he served the Polish Church.

Prior to World War II, the Orthodox Church in Poland numbered several million members. After the war, however, much of Poland’s territory was incorporated into what is today Belarus, Lithuania, and Ukraine, greatly reducing the Church’s geographical and numerical size. Today, the Church of Poland numbers nearly 700,000 faithful in some 300 parishes and missions throughout the country. In addition to the Archdiocese of Warsaw, the Church maintains dioceses in Bialystok, Lublin, Lodz, Wroclaw, and Przymysl. It maintains a graduate theological faculty and undergraduate seminary in Warsaw, several monasteries, including the 600-year-old Monastery of the Annunciation in Suprasl, and a very active national youth fellowship.

Earlier the same day, Metropolitan Sawa and His Eminence, Archbishop Jeremiasz of Wroclaw and Szczecin welcomed Metropolitan Herman and the delegation from the Orthodox Church in America at Warsaw’s Chopin International Airport. Following a welcoming luncheon, the hierarchs, accompanied by Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, OCA Chancellor; the Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, Assistant to the Chancellor for External Affairs and Inter-Church Relations; the Very Rev. John Matusiak, OCA Communications Department; and OCA Chancery staff members David Wagschal and John Mindala, visited the US Embassy in Warsaw, where they were warmly received by Cameron P. Munter, Deputy Chief of Mission; Gerald C. Anderson, Political Counselor of the US Embassy; and John Lowell Armstrong, Second Secretary for Political and Labor Affairs for the US Embassy. Among the concerns discussed during the meeting were Poland’s economic situation, humanitarian aid efforts, and the growing problem of “human traffiking” across Central and Eastern Europe.

On Friday, September 5, Metropolitans Sawa and Herman called on Jozef Cardinal Glemp at his Warsaw residence, where they discussed the relationship between the nation’s Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic communities. Later the same day, the hierarchs were received by Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski at his residence near Warsaw’s historic center. President Kwasniewski listened intently as Metropolitan Herman traced the history and current situation of the Orthodox Church in America. The hierarchs also were received by Mr. Ralph J. Lysyshyn, Canadian Ambassador to Poland, at the Canadian Embassy. Ambassador Lysyshyn explained various cooperative efforts aimed at bolstering development of Poland’s private sector.

The feast of Saint Maxim Sandowicz, a Polish Orthodox priest who was martyred in the early 1900s, was celebrated by the hierarchs and OCA delegation in Holy Trinity Church, Gorlice, in the heart of Poland’s southeastern Lemko region. Hundreds of faithful witnessed His Eminence, Archbishop Adam of Przymysl and Nowy Sacz welcome Metropolitans Sawa and Herman and His Eminence, Archbishop Abel of Lublin and Chelm to the celebration. A banquet marking the 20th anniversary of the reestablishment of the Diocese of Przymysl followed the festal procession.

Orthodox Christians from the Lemko region suffered severe persecution during World War II, after which the majority of the region’s indigenous population faced deportation to Ukraine or relocation in what is today western Poland. Dozens of Orthodox churches were abandoned, yet the remaining faithful, bolstered by a small but steady return of many Lemko faithful to their ancestral region, have brought about an intense revival of Orthodox Church life.

On Sunday morning, September 7, Metropolitans Sawa and Herman, together with Archbishop Abel and Bishops Miron of Hajnowka and Grzegorz of Bielsk-Podlaski, auxiliaries to the Warsaw Archdiocese, concelebrated the Divine Liturgy in Warsaw’s Cathedral of Saint Mary Magdalene. Metropolitan Sawa formally welcomed Metropolitan Herman and the OCA delegation at the conclusion of the Liturgy. At the conclusion of the Liturgy, Metropolitan Herman presented Metropolitan Sawa with an icon of Saints Sawa, Herman and Tikhon, in which relics of the latter two had been embedded. Metropolitan Sawa presented Metropolitan Herman with an exquisite icon of Christ “Not Made By Hands.” During a banquet which followed, at which US Embassy personnel were present, Metropolitan Herman presented Dr. Andrzej Czohara, who represented President Kwasniewski, with an icon of Saint Herman of Alaska.

Later the same evening, Metropolitans Sawa and Herman visited the Church of Saint John of the Ladder in Warsaw’s Wola district. Located at the entrance of the city’s major Orthodox cemetery, the church is surrounded by the graves of Poland’s deceased Orthodox primates and other historic figures, where the two Metropolitans celebrated a memorial service for the deceased primates of the American and Polish Orthodox Churches.

The first anniversary of Metropolitan Herman’s enthronement was celebrated on Monday, September 8, the Great Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God, at Holy Transfiguration Cathedral, Lublin, Poland. Metropolitans Sawa and Herman concelebrated with Archbishop Abel of Lublin and His Eminence, Archbishop Simeon of Volynia, Ukraine. The cathedral, constructed in the 1630s, stands on the edge of the city’s historic center and contains many examples of indigenous baroque style icons dating to the 17th century. Archbishop Abel presented Metropolitan Herman with a copy of the wonderworking icon of the Chelm Mother of God at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy.

After a festive banquet attended by the region’s religious and political leaders, Metropolitans Sawa and Herman, accompanied by the OCA delegation, visited the World War II era Majdanek Death Camp just minutes from Lublin’s city center. Nearly 400,000 individuals, including many Orthodox clergy and faithful, perished at the camp, which is marked by a massive monument in which the ashes of victims are enshrined. The hierarchs led the entourage in prayerful remembrance of the camp’s victims and were visibly moved by the inscription on the monument, which reads “Our fate is your warning.”

Later the same evening, the hierarchs and delegation members attended a Service of Thanksgiving at Saint John the Theologian Cathedral, Chelm. It was in this church that the late Archbishop Kiprian of Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania had been baptized. The hierarchs venerated the wonderworking icon of the Chelm Mother of God and venerated the relics of the World War II era new martyrs of the Lublin and Chelm region enshrined in the cathedral.

Metropolitans Sawa and Herman and the OCA delegation visited several important sites on Tuesday, September 9. The day began with a visit to the 16th century Monastery of Saint Onuphrios in Jableczna, where they were welcomed by Archimandrite Jerzy and the monastic brotherhood. After celebrating a Service of Thanksgiving in the monastery’s main church, the entourage visited a number of forest chapels and venerated the relics of Saint Ignatius, another World War II era martyr.

Bells rang as the hierarchs arrived at the women’s Monastery of Saints Martha and Mary near Siemiaticze, Poland. Located at the summit of the holy mountain Grabarka, the monastery’s main Church of the Transfiguration is surrounded by thousands of crosses, some dating back 50 years, carried to the monastery and embedded in the ground by faithful from across Poland. The annual Transfiguration pilgrimage to Grabarka is Poland’s largest, and the monastery is the site of an annual pilgrimage for Orthodox youth, which attracts several thousand teens and young adults every May.

En route to Bialystok, regional capital of northeastern Poland, Metropolitans Sawa and Herman visited the 600-year-old Monastery of the Annunciation in Suprasl, where reconstruction of the main cathedral was recently completed. The church was destroyed in the early 20th century. After the monastery property was returned to the Orthodox Church after the fall of communism, plans were made to reconstruct the massive church, an exceptional example of classic ecclesiastical architecture indigenous to Poland and Belarus.

In Bialystok, Metropolitans Sawa and Herman visited two of the city’s dozen Orthodox churches. In the Church of Hagia Sophia, a recently built replica of its namesake in Constantinople, the hierarchs viewed frescoes which had been completed by iconographers from Greece. His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, consecrated the church several years ago. Hundreds of faithful greeted the hierarchs at Bialystok’s largest Orthodox Church, dedicated to the Holy Spirit. The immense recently built octagonal church, capable of accommodating several thousand worshippers, dominates the city’s skyline, and Metropolitan Herman and the OCA delegation marveled at the exceptional frescoes currently being painted on the interior walls. Metropolitan Herman visited the World Council of Churches’ Eastern European office, an Orthodox radio station, and a humanitarian aid agency in the building adjacent to the church.

An estimated 1200 faithful awaited the arrival of Metropolitans Sawa and Herman at the 19th century Saint Nicholas Cathedral in the center of Bialystok. His Grace, Bishop Jacob of Bialystok and Gdansk, Poland’s largest diocese, and a number of religious and political leaders from throughout the region welcomed Metropolitan Herman at the conclusion of the Service of Thanksgiving. Metropolitan Herman and the OCA delegation venerated the relics of the 17th century Child-Martyr Gabriel of Zabludow, whose incorrupt relics are enshrined in the cathedral. Bishop Jacob presented Metropolitan Herman with an icon of Saint Gabriel in which a relic of the saint was embedded.

On their final day in Poland, Wednesday, September 10, Metropolitans Sawa and Herman concelebrated the Divine Liturgy marking the Feast of Saint Job of Pochaev at Archangel Michael Cathedral, Bielsk-Podlaski, Poland, one of the nation’s Orthodox centers. Bishop Grzegorz of Bielsk-Podlaski welcomed the hierarchs and hosted them at a banquet following the festal procession.

Later the same day, Metropolitan Herman met with Archbishop Jeremiasz of Wroclaw and representatives of Poland’s faith traditions in Warsaw. The Archbishop moderated a discussion on interfaith cooperation, especially after the fall of communism.

Metropolitan Herman and the OCA delegation returned to the US on Thursday, September 11.

Comprehensive photo coverage of the visit may be found on the OCA web site, and will be featured in the September-October 2003 issue of “The Orthodox Church” newspaper.