2000 (1) Church of St. Nicholas Bari

2000 (1) Church of St. Nicholas Bari

The Church of Saint Nicolas in Bari
Communique of the chancellery of Bishop Ambrose of Vevey

The Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas in Bari, Italy, was founded in 1911 by the V. Rev. Father Ioann Vostorgov, a future New Martyr of Russia.  This is the only Orthodox church located in the city were the Wonderworker's relics repose and it is therefore invaluable for the entire Orthodox Church.

Following the tragedy of the 1917 Revolution in Russia, the church was administered by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (ROCA). From 1921 to this day, priests appointed by the ROCA celebrated the religious services without interruption.

"However, in 1937 financial problems made it impossible for the owners to look after the church and the adjacent buildings.  An agreement was then reached between the city of Bari and the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.  According to this agreement the city of Bari became the owner of the property, while the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was granted complete and permanent use of the church and the buildings while the city was given the responsibility for the maintenance of and care for all the buildings and the salary of the priest serving at the church.  One of the buildings located next to the church was made available for several municipal administrative offices. 

The same agreement described the obligation of the city of Bari to guarantee the celebration of Orthodox church services "under the same clerical administration"  (i.e., the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad).  From this moment on, the newly appointed priests always registered themselves with the municipality without any bureaucratic interference.

The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was always thankful to the city of Bari for making it possible that for the duration of almost sixty years a Russian Orthodox priest has been able to serve near the relics of the great saint.  The parish of the Russian church in Bari is rather small but very diverse as it includes Russians, Serbs, Greeks and Orthodox Italians.  The parish never limited itself to the city of Bari proper, and many letters were regularly received from Russia and the rest of the world from those who were affectionately referred to as "distant parishioners" and who requested that prayers be said for them and their relatives at the saint's relics.  Many pilgrims also regularly came from all over the world.

Before 1996, during the time when repairs were being made at the upper church, services were celebrated alternatively in the upper and lower churches.  Daily services are still currently celebrated in the lower church: Father Nikolai Todorovich, appointed to the church in 1999, celebrates the Vespers and the Typika daily.

Following the political changes in Russia, the early 1990s saw an increase in the number of pilgrims from Russia.  The decades of separation between the MP and the ROCA and the open propaganda which was conducted against the ROCA in Russia had their effect: in several instances Russian pilgrims were told to go and pray even with the Roman Catholics rather than with the "Exiles".  In the meanwhile, Russian officials paid increasingly frequent visits to the officials of the city of Bari.

In 1996 the office of the Mayor of city of Bari offered the ROCA to create a commission tasked with discussing the changing situation and find ways to define new rules that would take into account the influx of pilgrims from Russia.  Bishop Ambrose, who is responsible for the ROCA parishes in Italy, agreed to discuss this issue.  During the month of May 1998, however, the city of Bari without ever having called the commission into session or consulting the ROCA, signed a memorandum of intention and later, in November of the same year, an agreement with the MP.  This agreement stated that the church and several sections of the former house for the pilgrims were handed over to the MP.  The agreement also referred to some undefined "rights of the current users".

The MP immediately appointed a priest responsible for the church in Bari, Father Vladimir Kuchumov, but he arrived in the city later and began to celebrate only in December 1999 in the upper church that is currently undergoing final repairs.

This situation was unacceptable to the ROCA: the 1937 agreement had been unilaterally violated, the presence of the ROCA parish was deprived from a legal status, while the area available for the parish, the religious services and housing for the priest was substantially reduced.  In the course of 1998 Bishop Ambrose sent several letters to the Mayor of Bari asking for clarifications; he also offered a plan for a settlement in response to a request made by the authorities.  His letters and his proposal never received any response.  There can be no doubt about the fact that a Church should not have to prove its ecclesiological existence in front of a secular court.  This blatant violation of the 1937 agreement forced Bishop Ambrose to seek to defend the rights of his parish by legal means.  In January 1999, a civil lawsuit was filed against the Municipality of Bari.

In October of 1999, the court rendered a preliminary verdict, which prohibited the Municipality from making any changes to the legal ownership of the church premises until the final verdict of the court.  Basing his actions upon this decision, Bishop Ambrose demanded from the authorities a full implementation of the 1937 agreement.  The authorities refused to comply.  In response, Bishop Ambrose, in accordance with the preliminary verdict of October 1999, during his visit to Bari for the Feast of Saint Nicholas on 18/21 December, 1999, secured for the parish two adjacent buildings which had always belonged to the parish.  It was planned that the family of the priest would live in them, as for the first time in many years a married priest with a family was appointed to the church.  Previously, there had been no need for such accommodations.  On December 23, immediately after the departure of Bishop Ambrose, the local police, responding to a call from the MP priest penetrated inside the church premises.  Father Nikolai was manhandled in front of his 12-year-old daughter and had his keys taken from him by force.  The police even had the impudence of brutally interrogating Father Nikolai while using his daughter as a translator.  Bishop Ambrose returned to Bari on December 27 when he filed a lawsuit (a criminal lawsuit this time) against the Mayor and the Chief of Police.  Following Bishop Ambrose's departure, the police broke into the church grounds again, forcibly expelling Father Nikolai who was forced to leave Italy for Yugoslavia.  He was allowed to return two days later.

What has happened, and what is still happening, is a blatant abuse of power by the city authorities who, instead of upholding the rule of law and order, refuse to submit to the decisions of the courts.  The city of Bari and the MP priest, who constantly interfere with the life of the ROCA parish (by for example, preventing Father Nikolai from accessing the bell tower), come close to violating the Italian Constitution (and the constitutional norms of any other democratic country) which guarantees religious freedom.

The court will soon render its verdict, but it is already becoming obvious that the dispute in Bari is not simply an issue of "ownership" and that it has a much more profound dimension.  The church of Saint Nicholas in Bari is miraculously linked to the names of numerous New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia.  The inspirer and the main donator for the construction of the church was the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II; the director of the construction committee was the monastic martyr the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna and the first ruling bishop the Metropolitan Benjamin of Saint Petersburg.  The nun Mother Nikolaia who lived by the church for more than six decades had been told to go live there by the Elders of Optina even before the construction of the church had begun.  The current struggle in Bari is a struggle between, on one hand, those who for three quarters of a century were being the true witnesses for Orthodoxy during the time of the worst persecutions the Church has ever suffered, and on the other hand, the successors of those who executed and approved of these persecutions.

Chancellery of the Bishop Ambrose of Vevey
18 rue de Beaumont, CH 1206 Geneva

Geneva, January 23/February 7 2000AD.
St. Gregory the Theologian

1970 (2) Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

Before the Face of Antichrist
Archimandrite Konstantin
Orthodox Life March 1970

That the world is leaving Christ and that it is united in this movement, embracing with it even all that was included in Christendom in all its manifestations, including Orthodoxy, which has remained successively the original Church of Christ, is already, to a degree, becoming accessible to the understanding of Christian man,  And this is already calling forth certain actions of self defense on the part of those who want to remain with Christ.  Something of what is done in this line, more or less by chance, becomes known to the general public.  But the consciousness of the unity which disregards all the bonds which,  until the present "ecumenical" period of the history of the Church, were accepted as being absolutely impassable, and in this, especially in regard to faithfulness to Christ, however subjectively it might be understood -- such a consciousness has by no means yet defined itself.

Christ once spoke perfectly clearly about the character of a similar unity. Before us stand two statements of two completely different hues of meaning.  He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad[Matt. 12:30].  This is the first: he who does not manifest active solidarity with Christ is not only not Christ's but is a force already inimical to Christ.  But in as much as He speaks about the disciples following Him, the Lord gave a completely different explanation when they told him that they had forbidden a man who did not associate with them to cast out demons in the name of Christ.  Forbid him not; for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.  For he that is not against us is on our part [Mark :38-40].  This is the second statement, according to which service to Christ is by no means limited formally; it can be accepted by Christ in any form -- by grace adopted and clothed by Him in His power, to one degree or anther.  Both these sayings of the Lord cannot but have a permanent significance and, perhaps, it is now that they must be revealed in full measure -- at a time when, although in a reverse direction, an atmosphere akin to early Christianity arises.

Those who are not actively united with the true Christ -- those, by the force of things, turn out to be against Him.  This is manifest today with an astounding clarity which takes on an ever-increasing mass character.  But as for the forms of communion with Christ, they are losing more and more their character of formal successiveness.  Communion with Christ, in an entirely new and ever growing force,is capable of being born anew, on any soil!  And thus there is formed a mass phenomenon, characteristic of the end of the world, which will be met by the most decisive counteraction on the part of the Antichrist -- a counteraction so disastrous that, as the Lord Himself told us, He will be prepared to hasten His coming in order to intercept this destruction.

This phenomenon which will decisively define itself only in the time of the Antichrist, nonetheless can be noted in our times in the natural, mutual attraction to one another of those who want to remain with Christ.  Thus there appears a certain contrasting analogy to the ecumenism of Antichrist -- in the spiritual kinship of all the appearances of faithfulness to Christ, wherever they be found, even if in the manifestation of heterodoxy, if there arises a reaction against the ecumenism of Antichrist in the form of a defense of minimal bit of the genuine Christ that remains in that ecclesiastical body, then this cannot but arouse sympathy from all the "faithful" regardless of the degree to which they are "Orthodox".  And here, of course, is not excluded any formulation of such a unity in faithfulness to Christ.  Moreover, if this unity embraces all the "faithful," regardless of the fullness of their faithfulness, then does there not quite naturally arise a striving for the general possession of the fullness of Truth?

And here one saying of Christ attracts special attention, a saying which until the present time remained unrevealed in its concrete content.  So often we hear the following words of the Savior in church:  I am the door; by me if any man enter in he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture ... I am the good shepherd... I am the good shepherd and know my sheep and am known of mine.. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold:  them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd [John 10:9-16].

Is the meaning of that which is proclaimed in these words revealed in what must naturally arise at the present time, under the conditions of the epidemic regeneration in the direction of Antichrist of all church "denominations", even Orthodoxy?  All those, each in their own denomination who courageously remain with Christ, thus separate themselves from their own denomination, which as a whole, is joining Antichrist.  And is not their mutual drawing together, generated into a general preparedness to rise to the level of the fullness of Orthodoxy?  And in this, does there not seem to be realized just what Christ spoke of as the one fold which will arise, uniting around the one Shepherd?

Thus there appear two conflicting processes which cannot but develop more and more clearly in the process of the unfolding of apostasy:  on the one hand, the appearance within all Christian denominations of a certain kernel of "faithful" who are prepared to endure all in their faithfulness to their denomination in its original from, not corrupted by the influence of Antichrist, and at the same time the appearance, completely natural, with the drawing together in the name of faithfulness to Christ, of a sympathetic interest in the content of the faith of all the denominations thus drawn together, an interest which will extend just as naturally to the realization of the alienation of all heterodox denominations from the fullness of Christianity, which is present only in Orthodoxy.

Thus two new phenomena appear in the atmosphere of the thickening apostasy: mutual, sympathetic interest and inclination to rapprochement from all sides in all Christian denominations as far as faithfulness to the true Christ is concerned, and at the same time, as a result of mutual trust in the atmosphere of faithfulness to the true Christ on the part of all denominations which have left the original fullness of Christianity, a mutual inclination to acquire this fullness.

To define the Orthodox point of view more precisely in this process of thickening apostasy, it can be said that all, in the eyes of Orthodoxy, are her own, if only they manifest a faithfulness to even that little bit of genuine Christianity which they receive in their denomination.  But, on the part of Orthodoxy, more than ever before, a missionary effort must be directed to these heterodox in the name of forming, before the face of Antichrist, one fold following one Shepherd.

1978 (6) Progress or the Cross?

The Kingdom of God on Earth
Progress or the Cross?
by Archbishop Averky of Syracuse
From Orthodox Life, Vol. 28, no.6, Nov-Dec 1978

On August 1, according to our Orthodox ecclesiastical calendar, our Holy Church begins the celebration of the Precious and Life-creating Cross of the Lord, which reaches its climax on September 14, the great feast of the Exaltation of the Cross of the Lord, and concludes with the Leave-taking (Apodosis) of the feast on September 21.

Why is this? Is it not enough that we commemorate the Crucifixion of the Lord on the Cross on Great Friday, and that the Holy Church glorifies the Cross of the Lord every Friday?

A profound, inner meaning is concealed in this celebration of the Cross of the Lord: the Holy Church, our concerned mother, wishes to direct our particular attention to this great and saving sign, against which the world, “which lieth in wickedness” (I Jn. 5:19), has always waged, and in our days continues to wage, a deliberate and unrelenting battle – the world which has now plainly fallen away from Christ and is preparing itself to worship Antichrist.

Can anyone dare call himself a Christian who shuts his eyes to all the horrors taking place in the world today, and soothes his conscience, and the consciences of those around him, with assurances that everything is an incidental, transient phenomenon, and that in general the world is moving towards “progress,” towards the establishment of the “Kingdom of God on earth”?

It is frightening to think that we are hearing such assurances more and more often in our days, not only from non-believers, not only from the sectarians who are “chiliasts” (those whose doctrine includes belief in a thousand-year kingdom on earth), but even from certain Orthodox clerics, including some who bear the rank of bishop!

It is difficult to say what these people believe who have apparently been appointed to instruct the people in the pure teaching of the Word of God and the holy Fathers of the Church, and why they are so disposed, marching to the tune of the sectarians at times, and at other times with those who do not believe in God and with the “Christian progressives.” Either they are naive in the extreme and completely ignorant of the clear teaching of the word of God, or they themselves do not believe in anything, but say that which is required of them by the overlords who provide for them, whom they faithfully serve, fearing to lose those worldly goods received from them: money, titles, jobs, high rank in society, pleasures, etc.

The word of God does not give us even the slightest foundation for belief in the establishment of a “Kingdom of God on earth,” or in any worldly progress for humanity; quite the contrary.  It foretells much suffering for true followers of Christ and the “bearing of the cross” in imitation and following of the Lord Who bore the Cross; and for this world, which lieth in wickedness, it foretells an inevitable end.  The promised “Kingdom of Christ on earth” is by no means tangible, but noetic – within the souls, of those who truly believe in Christ, for Whom the Lord became King.

Surely it is not in vain that, laying down the whole course of a true Christian’s earthly life, Christ our Savior said: Whosoever, will come after Me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me (Mk. 8:34), and at the Mystical  Supper before His suffering on the Cross, He forewarned His disciples: “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (Jn. 16:33). Neither in vain did the holy Apostles, in complete accord with these words of the Divine Teacher, instruct Christians, We must through much tribulation enter into the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), or “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps” (I Pet. 2:21).

But this transient, earthly world in which the “progressives,” despite the sorry witness of their own eyes, promise the people some completely illusory, happy, “paradisiacal” life with total well-being and prosperity for all, is doomed to destruction on the “day of the Lord,” according to the clear teaching of the word of God, when “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (II Pet. 3:10).

Modern thinkers do not want to hear of this, saying that this might happen “some day,” “many million years hence,” but “never today.”  By such statements, they liken themselves to the “scoffers” that the holy Apostle also refers to, alerting Christians to the dangers lurking for the morality of Christian people.  “Know this first, that there shall come in the last days deceitful scoffers, walking after their own lusts and saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (II Pet. 3:3-4).  It is a characteristic indication that those who speak thus are people who are “walking after their own lusts!”  To such “lusts” have they surrendered themselves, darkening the eyes of their souls so that they no longer see anything, for they look at everything only from the distorted point of view of their “lusts,” which occupy all their attention and interest.

Yet, our Lord Himself clearly taught us not to think of relegating His Second Coming to some vague remote future – “millions of years hence,” – but commanded us to expect Him always, comparing His arrival in its suddenness to that of a thief: “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.  But know this, that if the householder had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken into.  Therefore, be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Mt. 24:42-44).  The “faithful and wise servant” never says that the Second Coming will be “sometime after many, many years;” and that it is thus not necessary to trouble oneself with this thought, for he knows that the Lord Himself has forbidden him to say: “my Lord delayeth His coming” (Mt 24:48).

What, then, can be said of those who not only do not consider the possibility of the nearness of the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ, which many signs indicate to us, but believe in some imaginary progress of humanity and the approach of a general well-being and prosperity, although all of modern life, with its total decline of true faith and morality, with its terrible, destructive inventions which deal death to man, simply cries out against this.  Such people are totally alien to Christianity, even though they bear the exalted positions and titles of Christian clerics and hierarchs!

One must know and remember that it is such earthly “progress,” such illusory well-being and prosperity of man on earth, that Antichrist, Christ’s opponent, promises to give to the people.  His servants, who are preparing for his reign on earth, are already striving beforehand in like manner to influence the people, shouting and preaching everywhere about this “paradise on earth” which supposedly awaits the people.  And all those who strive for this earthly “progress” forgetting Christ’s words: “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mt. 6:33), who avoid bearing their cross as Christ commands, but think only of how they might make the world better and more free, richer, and more carefree, enjoying all the earthly goods and pleasures, are in the same camp with the servants of the imminent Antichrist, working consciously or unconsciously for his swift appearance and reign in the world.

Such as these are not of Christ, but of Antichrist. 

But we, if we are true Christians and do not falsely or hypocritically bear the name “Christian,” must gaze constantly upon the Cross of Christ, that saving sign of God’s love for us, the token of our salvation, and drawing therefrom abundant and grace-imparting powers “which pertain unto life and godliness” (II Pet. 1:3), must bear our cross as the Lord has commanded us, and must regard this transient earthly life as but a sojourn in a hostel, whence we must return home, to those “heavenly mansions” which the Lord has prepared for us by His suffering on the Cross (Jn. 14:2).

With the great Apostle, we must “consider all things as dung in order to win Christ” (Phil. 3:8).  And we must thus forsake all our purely earthly concerns, all controversies, quarrels, disputes and altercations, from which no one receives any benefit, but only spiritual harm.  “Our life is in Heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). This we must ever constantly keep in mind.

Soon all will come to an end – all this temporal, transient, corrupt earthly world.  Surely we shall not lose our hope of eternal life by surrendering ourselves to our petty passions and lusts!  “Seek those things which are above,” the holy Apostle Paul thus exhorts us, “where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:1-2).

Translated from: True Orthodoxy and the Modern World, by Archbishop Averky [Jordanville, N.Y.:  St. Job of Pochaev Press, 1971], pp. 295-299