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Howell, NJ: Metropolitan Hilarion sends Special Appeal to Parishioners of St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

On November 5, 2013, during a regular session of the Diocesan Council, His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion, gave his blessing for the organization of a new Diocesan Center at St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Howell, NJ. As reported earlier in a press release on the Council’s February 10, 2014 meeting, the official opening of the Diocesan Center will be held on September 12, 2014, at which point the Cathedral will become the see of the ruling bishop of the Eastern American Diocese.

On February 25, 2014, His Eminence travelled to Howell to meet with the current rector and clergy of St. Alexander’s – Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov, Priest Seraphim Chemodakov, and Protodeacon Nicholas Lukianov. Also participating in the meeting on behalf of the Diocesan Council were Diocesan Secretary Archpriest Serge Lukianov, Archpriest Victor Potapov, Hieromonk Alexander (Frizzell), and Reader Peter Lukianov. On behalf of St. George’s Church in Howell ‒ the current Diocesan Center, which will be merged with St. Alexander’s ‒ Archpriest Boris Slootsky and Protodeacon Leonid Roschko also participated in the meeting.

Metropolitan Hilarion called the meeting in order to inform the parish clergy of the developments discussed by the Diocesan Council in relation to the new Diocesan Center. The First Hierarch also prepared a special appeal to the parishioners of St. Alexander’s, which was read aloud at the start of the meeting, was mailed to all parishioners after the Triumph of Orthodoxy, and can be read below. His Eminence expressed his sincere gratitude to Fr. Valery for his over 40 years of dedicated service to the parish and asked for his continued guidance and support throughout the transition process. In turn, Fr. Valery shared his thoughts about the spiritual significance of a new Diocesan Center being organized in the first parish founded by Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko) in America, which was also the site of Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky’s) episcopal consecration. Fr. Valery expressed his joy at the Metropolitan’s decision for a new center and thanked him for accepting his request for retirement.

Address of the His Eminence HILARION
Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York
First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad
 to the Parishioners of Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Howell, NJ

Dearly beloved in the Lord Reverend Fathers, brothers and sisters,

We greet you with the same salutation with which our Savior greeted the Holy Apostles after His Resurrection: "Peace be unto you" (John 20:19). In 1948, during the Great Consecration of the original Saint Alexander Nevsky Church (currently the Church Tikhvin Icon of the Mother of God), the ever-memorable Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky) was consecrated to the episcopacy on the same day. We would like to echo the words that he spoke to your fathers and grandfathers, the parishioners of your parish: "My heart rejoices seeing you, O radiant children of the Church, parishioners of the renowned Lakewood parish! It has always been a joy to pray in your wonderful church…"

During the November 5th, 2013 session of the Diocesan Council, Council members discussed the need to organize a new administrative center with a large church that would serve as a diocesan center. With our blessing, the Council resolved to organize the new Diocesan Center at Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Based on your longtime rector Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov’s request for retirement, this decision came after much prayerful deliberation and consideration of all factors associated with such a monumental and historic move. On the same day, we informed Fr. Valery of this decision and asked for his assistance in the transition process, to which he graciously agreed.

Since there are no set regulations by which a normal parish is converted into a diocesan center, we tasked the Council with preparing an administrative plan, according to which the new center will be organized and operated.

Understanding the many challenges associated with this process, Council members met on February 10th, 2014 and carefully considered several proposals to restructure the diocesan administration and create a new set of parish by-laws specific to your parish in its designation as the Diocesan Center. Because of the critical nature of this process, the new parish by-laws will be ratified at the next session of the Diocesan Council, after all of its members have had the opportunity to pray and carefully consider them. The final decision rests with us in our capacity as the ruling diocesan bishop. Once the by-laws have been finalized, we will personally present and explain them to you at an extraordinary meeting of the parish, to be held after Pascha.

In the meantime, we would like to explain several decisions that have already been made with regards to the Saint Alexander Nevsky Parish and its new role as the administrative center of the Diocese:

1)       Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov’s request for retirement has been granted and will go into effect on September 12th, 2014. In appreciation of their many years of service, Fr. Valery and Matushka Irene Lukianov will be provided with fully subsidized parish housing and medical insurance for the remainder of their lives. Fr. Valery will continue to serve and hear confessions in the parish, where he shall have the title of Pastor Emeritus.

2)       We, in our capacity as Ruling Bishop of the Eastern American Diocese, will serve as the rector, and will be the supreme executive and spiritual authority in all matters relating to the administration and day-to-day life of the Diocesan Center and St. Alexander Nevsky Parish.

3)       Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is given the special designation of "Diocesan Cathedral" – it will become the See of the diocesan Ruling Bishop. All liturgical practice shall conform to standard hierarchal formulae.

4)       Archpriest Serge Lukianov will be assigned Dean of the Cathedral to assist in operating the parish.

5)       Saint George’s Church in Howell, NJ will be transferred under the auspices of the Diocesan Center and all parish priests, deacons, subdeacons, and readers will be assigned to St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

6)       Parish life will continue to function normally with regards to the parish school, sisterhood, Saint Alexander’s Foundation, and all other normal activities.

7)       Membership in the parish shall continue as before and parishioners retain the right to participate in Annual General Meetings of the parish, where they have the right to elect members of the parish council.

8)       A transition team has been organized under the direction of diocesan secretary Archpriest Serge Lukianov and tasked with researching all questions associated with the logistics of organizing the new Diocesan Center. The transition team has been authorized to meet with parish clergy, council, and parishioners, as well as to have full access to parish property and documents. Their findings and recommendations will be presented to us during upcoming sessions of the Diocesan Council. Members of your parish council and administration will be invited to participate in the working sessions of the transition team to assure that everyone’s voice is heard in the process.

Understanding that you may still have unanswered questions or concerns, we ask for your patience in this most crucial and sensitive time for your parish and our entire Diocese. However, it is necessary to address and put to rest several false notions that have arisen throughout this process. As the world around us descends further into chaos and moves away from the salvific teachings of the Holy Church, some may be tempted to question the motives behind the organization of the new Diocesan Center in Lakewood.

At every meeting of the Diocesan Council, we underscored the unacceptable and completely intolerable nature of any organization or administration of the Church other than that established by the Holy Apostles, their disciples the Bishops, and the Holy Fathers of the Ecumenical and Local Councils. At the root of Church organization and administration must lie Apostolic Canon 34, which proclaims, "The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent…" In his letter to the Smyrnæans, Chapter VIII, the Holy Hieromartyr Ignatius the God-Bearer writes, "Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop." The Apostolic Men and the Holy Fathers clearly teach that without the Bishop, there is no Church.

This cannot be said to mean that the laity are a stratum in the Church completely devoid of rights, as some opponents of the canonical order of church life and proponents of an unnatural "ecclesiastical democracy" malevolently misrepresent. Faithful laymen, if they are truly faithful and place at the head of the corner of their lives the salvation of their souls unto life eternal, are obliged in complete obedience to their bishops and pastors, but only insofar as those same pastors preserve inviolate their own obedience to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

These are the principles on which our entire Diocese has been built, as has been evidenced in the writings and teachings of all of the holy hierarchs and pastors who have come before us. The founder of our Diocese and your parish, Archbishop Vitaly (Maximenko), was a man of steadfast prayer who believed that the faithful of the Russian Church Abroad living in America had a great responsibility to preserve the Holy Church from all defilement and disorder. We appeal to you through the words that he spoke at the Sixth Diocesan Assembly in 1948, words that apply to us today, perhaps more than ever: "In a difficult time, when all are called to account for their faith, the Lord in His Providence has placed each of us on duty, to keep guard over the Church. All the more so are faithfulness and vigilance required of us. In the heart of every one of us, these cautionary words must sound the warning bell: ‘Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation’ (Matthew 26:41)."

We firmly believe that, in all of his monastic wisdom, Archbishop Vitaly foresaw the bright future of Saint Alexander Nevsky Church and the important role that it would play in the strengthening of our Eastern American Diocese. Having founded this parish as his first in America, he said: "I pray God that this, my firstling, the parish of Saint Alexander Nevsky, might flourish as a tree planted at the waters." Together we must strive to fulfill the will and testament of our founder by building a center here that will serve not only the administrative needs of our Diocese, but most importantly – the spiritual needs of our faithful. To do this, we must cultivate within ourselves the chief virtue of every Christian – love. "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another," said our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (John 13:35).

God willing, over the next several years, we plan to host many spiritual events in Lakewood, such as pastoral, youth, and choir conferences. We hope to focus more on education so that we may better prepare the future generation of our Diocese. Because of this, many clergy and faithful will travel to your parish in search of consolation, spiritual direction, and the strengthening of their spirit. It will be up to you to open your hearts to them in the same way that you have opened them up to us on the occasion of our many visits to Lakewood.

We recall the words of your rector, Protopresbyter Valery Lukianov, who on several occasions noted that "in Lakewood reside the kindest people in the world." This statement he spoke out of the depth of his heart, which has always been filled with endless love for his flock. We understand the truth of his words when we hear them echoed by the second rector of your parish, Protopresbyter Vasiliy Boschanovsky, who had this to say about love: "Whosever loves God cannot but love his neighbor as one who bears the image and likeness of God, as an object of God’s particular love, and for whom Christ the Savior gave His life." Only by abiding in constant love for our Savior and each other, will we be able to accomplish the great task that is set before us today.

Your beloved rector Fr. Valery has dedicated his entire life in service to your parish and to you – the flock which God has entrusted to him. His accomplishments as an engineer and builder are clearly evident to you, especially when you pray under the arches of the magnificent Saint Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, which you built together. But beautiful churches and parish buildings are not his greatest achievement. Fr. Valery’s legacy is his connection to the great hierarchs, venerable monastics, holy priests, and the righteous people of God who have fortified our Church Abroad throughout Her long-suffering and difficult history. He received the grace of the Holy Spirit through ordination at the hands of our father among the saints, Archbishop John of Shanghai & San Francisco, and Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky), both of whose relics now lay incorrupt. He received his pastoral knowledge from some of the greatest pillars that the Russian Church had ever cultivated, namely Archbishop Averky (Taushev), Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky), Archimandrite Constantine (Zaitsev), and many others. This wealth of spiritual knowledge and wisdom has helped him to strengthen and grow the parish throughout the decades. We have no desire or intention to disrupt the current momentum of parish life, but seek only to build upon Fr. Valery’s spiritual accomplishments.

As we face the temptations and challenges that the future will bring, we rely on Fr. Valery and other senior clerics of our Diocese to guide us along the path that was laid out by the founding hierarchs of the Russian Church Abroad. We would under no circumstances ever allow the new administration to disregard Fr. Valery’s many years of service and the fruits of his labors, which we see in your person as the parishioners and stewards of the parish.

We are counting on your collective support to help us build a spiritual and administrative center that will reflect the vibrant and multifaceted nature of our Eastern American Diocese, yet firmly grounded in the fundamental teachings and traditions of our Church Abroad. Most importantly, we ask that you strengthen and augment your prayers, especially in the upcoming holy days of Great Lent, so that we may keep in mind the one thing that is needful – attaining eternal salvation through Christ. Let us not rely on ourselves, but constantly run to our Savior with a penitent heart and ask Him to be our guide throughout this process. Let us remember the words that were spoken by the third rector of your parish, Abbot Anthony (Medvedev; subsequently Archbishop of San Francisco) who said, "When we so much as remember our Heavenly Father, so much as lean in His direction, He opens His Fatherly embrace and gives us to commune of His Only-Begotten Son!"

I call down upon you all, my dear ones, God’s every blessing!

+HILARION
Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York
First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad

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