When one of the children from among his flock went into a tailspin, Archbishop Agapit (Gorachek) of Stuttgart left off all of his episcopal duties and simply spoke with this teenager. He went with him to the movies that interested him, listened to music with him—certainly not classical, sat in sometimes noisy cafes, until the boy came to himself. And all this despite the fact that Vladyka Agapit himself had loved long, Athonite services from his youth.
Our Church has said goodbye to Vladyka Agapit. He was loved throughout the whole world. In Russia, where he often traveled on vacation in the countryside with boys and girls from his parishes, he was just as loved as in Germany. Archbishop Agapit, who recently reposed on the feast of the Ascension of the Lord, speaks of the path to the true Homeland in this autobiographical interview.
—I was born in Frankfurt, to a family of emigrants. I was baptized and my Church life began from infancy. My parents are Russian. Only my grandfather on my father’s side, Jaromir, was a Czech, and a Russified one. He was from Prague but studied in St. Petersburg, as a railroad worker. My grandmother was studying in the architecture department at the same time. They met and got married. My grandfather got a plot on the Trans-Siberian Railroad—beyond Arkhangelsk, in Kem. My father Vladimir was born there, as was my uncle Grisha.
My grandfather died early, in 1919, during the civil war. His relatives from Prague started trying to get his young widow with two young children in arms to move to them. But she was only able to leave the Soviet Union after eight years. And until 1927, when Dzerzhinksy personally signed the pass, she had to wait in Kemi. How glorious the state was! A widow with young children was able to leave it only after this terrorist in Moscow issued a resolution to leave. If you know the distance between Kem and Moscow, you can guess what they had left to hope in.
—Do you know about the life of your relatives abroad before you were born?
—Prague of the 1920s was the flower of Russian society: scientists, professors, officers—many interesting people. My father joined the youth there who gathered around Vladyka Sergei (Korolev). This bishop of Prague would welcome the students and have tea parties with them. When the soviets were approaching Prague later in 1945, my father, leaving the city on the last train, went to see Vladyka Sergei and tried to persuade him to also go to Germany. He refused, saying, “I can’t leave my flock.”
In Germany, my father first stayed at the Menhegof displaced person’s camp near Kassel, where he met my mother, a native of Kharkov, who also found herself in the emigration.
My father started publishing the magazine Posev (“Seed” or “Crop”). It was a political, anti-communist publication. It was made by Russians seeking to liberate Russia from Bolshevism. Engaging in politics didn’t prevent my father from being a believer, a man of the Church.
—Were there Orthodox churches there in the emigration?
—The first wave of the emigration didn’t build any churches. They sat on their suitcases and waited to return to Russia, and they did nothing. They prayed. But, by the way, those of the first emigration weren’t actually very religious people. At the Council in 1938, Vladyka John (Maximovitch) of Shanghai and San Francisco read the report: “Only four percent of society is religious,” about the emigration.
—Is the percentage higher now?
—Nothing changes. It’s shocking.
—One of our researchers noted that there were more atheists in Russia in 1870 than in 1970. Before the revolution, many were superficial believers, but by the end of the twentieth century it was the opposite—churches were destroyed, but having come through all the trials, the people believed more strongly. They say that it’s precisely in the churches that the emigrants found their homeland?
—Yes, when the second emigration arrived, they already understood: Stalin is in Russia. There’s no way back. They started building churches.
I remember the barracks-like Church of the Resurrection of Christ from my childhood in Frankfurt. When I was seven, I started serving in the altar. This was a very important moment in my life. Fr. Leonid, Count Ignatiev—the son of the governor of Kiev and grandson of the Russian ambassador to Constantinople—was serving there. He became my spiritual father.
In 1965, mainly on my father’s initiative, although he was of the first emigration, a Church of St. Nicholas was built in Frankfurt. My father became the warden there, and I grew up in this parish.
I remember when I was still a schoolboy I realized that the resources of the body are limited. It was depressing. I was an athlete, and a good one, but in this perspective of self-development, I was already aware then that time was running out.
—What sports did you play?
—Basketball, of course! [laughs] [Vladyka is very tall.—Auth.]
—First I studied in the architecture department in Darmstadt. I loved architecture in general. But since everyone I’d known since childhood lived on the political ideas of anti-bolshevism, and I knew little about the revolution in Russia, and didn’t know much about politics, at some point I decided I needed to study history, political science, and philosophy. But I made a mistake, or maybe it wasn’t a mistake—I don’t know. Instead of staying there and studying all that in the quiet, comfortable Darmstadt, I transferred to the university in my native Frankfurt. It was a fairly radical city: There had already been a student revolution in 1968, from where the sexual revolution began, and so on. The Frankfurt faculty had left-wing views, inimical to spiritual pursuits.
All the reports I tried to write in the history department’s seminar classes caused a barrage of attacks from the left-wing professors and students. For example, I wrote a report about the Brest Accord: how Trotsky and Lenin conducted this monstrous bargain. It was a complete deception! Russia didn’t figure in their plans at all—it was the raw material for a global revolution. Can you imagine what started in the auditorium then during my presentation? It was very difficult for me. I realized I couldn’t continue that way.
As for philosophy, it was the same—some kind of nightmare. For example, some German professor was speaking, and he said: “In his model for the future society, Marx doesn’t make any arguments in favor of the idea that what he offers will be good for society and man. There is no ethical justification for its social constructs.” The professor simply stated it as a fact. So he was “pecked” by some Iranian students: “How so?! Long live Lenin! The workers’ movement!” and so on. They were simply on some other level of perception. Meanwhile, they were sitting on money from the Shah, who sent Iranian youth to Europe and paid for their studies. But why do those who rave about the workers’ movement and the revolution need philosophy? They then staged this strange Iranian revolution in 1979, which in fact was socialist. That’s the kind of atmosphere there was in the philosophy department.
And political science wasn’t any better. Boredom is terrible! Greek democracy, social modeling… I was interested in A. A. Zinoviev, a Russian scientist-logician and philosopher. Incidentally, he was also expelled from the Soviet Union as a dissident. He wrote books giving a cross-section of soviet society: Yawning Heights, and others. But you read one of his masterly collections—and he was a master of the word—and you understand all of his philosophy. And then what? Famine again.
Studying at Frankfurt University was a dreary period.
There was no relationship between the professors and students, like what usually happens when a community of students forms around the teacher. Everything was broken.
The Mother of God weeps
—How did this period of broken human interaction end for you?
—In 1978, the All-Diaspora Congress of Russian Youth was held in Toronto. I went there with Misha Nazarov, a right-wing monarchist. He was secretary for the Posev magazine that my father published. From Toronto, we went to New York, where we spent a week. Then I visited my grandparents on my mom’s side in Utica. I decided to fast in Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville. It was the Dormition Fast, right before the feast. They had the wonderworking Kursk Root and the weeping Passion icons of the Mother of God in the monastery. It was a small paper icon from one Greek family’s home that suddenly started weeping. This icon has traveled throughout America. The Most Holy Theotokos was truly weeping. I arrived and stood in the center of the church. The Kursk Root Icon was lying on the analogion, and to the left, the Passion Icon, and I saw a tear on the Mother of God’s cheek—a fresh, full tear. It made an impression on me, of course. Archimandrite Anthony (Yamschikov), the monastery’s confessor, heard my confession.
The brethren received me very well, I think because most of them were from Czech Ladomirová,1 where they knew my father from Prague. And then I came from Europe, and for them, living in America, it was associated with the most painful memories of the Second World War. Do you also have bright memories of the Russian people of the twentieth century connected with the Great Patriotic War in Russia as well?
“Ram! In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!”
—Yes, despite all the terrors of the war, many people saw the light then. Churches began to open.
—In America and in Europe in general, that time evoked positive associations. We emigrants feel especially united on such trips: You go to America, to Canada, and they meet you like one of their own. Especially since I came from Germany.
The fact is that, in the emigration, especially the second wave, many people passed through Germany. At one time there were about thirty hierarchs here. There were fourteen parishes just in Munich, and about 150 in all of Germany. The people who had escaped from Stalin settled in German camps for displaced persons; our bishops educated them in the faith there. The young people in these camps got married and baptized, were catechized, and dispersed to all corners of the earth, but they preserved the grateful memory of the local clergy.
Once, in the Monastery of St. Job of Pochaev in Munich, sometime in 1985, when Vladyka Nathanael (Lvov) was still alive, in retirement at the monastery, the doorbell rang. We opened it, and there stood a man—an American by his style, with fashionable shoes and pants. “Hello,” he said in Russian. “Can I see Vladyka Nathanael?” “Yes, yes, of course,” we said. “Are you aware that he’s sick, in bed?” “Yes,” he said. “I’d like to see him. I was his chauffeur.”
Once, Vladyka Nathanael, still an archimandrite then, heard that the British had arrived at a certain camp with trucks and were already planning to arrange repatriation. He immediately got in the car and drove there. When they arrived, the gates to the camp were closed, and behind them he could see the trucks standing there, and already some commotion. He exchanged glances with the driver: “Do you bless me to ram through it?” he asked. “Ram! In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit!” Vladyka (still an archimandrite then) blessed. The car, by the way, was equipped with a British red, white, and blue flag. So the driver accelerated and broke down the gate at full speed. They jumped out of the car and Vladyka began to take down those who had already been pushed into the trucks: “Get out! Don’t leave for anything! They want to repatriate you!” The British soldiers were taken aback when they saw the cleric.
They retreated. Archimandrite Nathanael prevented the transfer of about 600 people to the USSR from the British occupation zone, in the camp near Hamburg.
Having come from Germany, when you meet these people who were saved and their descendants in America, they give you a very warm welcome. Our unity is nourished by such experiences of selfless service of pastors to their flock and the people of God helping their hierarchs.
A lot of different things happened when I was staying in Jordanville—I can’t tell you everything. After the feast of the Dormition, Vladyka Laurus (Škurla), who became our First Hierarch in 2001, called me and gave me the Sokolov case on the murder of the Royal Family.2
—How did it wind up with Vladyka Laurus?
—General M. K. Dieterichs, who was assigned to conduct the investigation by A. V. Kolchak of the White Army into the murder of the Royal Family, made a copy of Sokolov’s investigative file for himself. He just typed it out on a typewriter. It was the fourth of four copies: Sokolov himself made two copies, plus the original. General Dieterichs’ stepson gave these documents to Jordanville, asking that the file be published. Vladyka Laurus called for me and said: “We can’t publish the file because we do not have an historian who can thoroughly comment on it.” He asked the Posev Publishing House to handle this work.
—And where are the other copies?
—One of the copies, I know, is in Harvard, and another one made its way to Russia only in 1997. For some reason, the Prince of Lichtenstein had a part of the investigative file, and he exchanged it for the family archive that was kept in Russian vaults after World War II.
Then my father got all the photographs from the case: Ganina Yama, Pig’s Meadow, Four Brothers’ Mine…
—It’s amazing that the Lord, having blessed your father to deal with this history, called him to Himself in the same year that the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad glorified the Royal Family, on the very day of their commemoration: July 17, 1981.
—Yes, my father managed to print this book. Investigators still use it, because the case materials there were published in full.
—How did you feel then, still a student, carrying the case about the murder of the Royal Family across the ocean on your chest?
—I was shocked, of course. It was a very important moment in my life. I returned to college, but school wasn’t enough for me anymore.
When a community begins with a friendship
—There wasn’t any Orthodox monasticism in Europe as such, except those who had come from Pochaev. One of them was Vladyka Paul (Pavlov), a spiritual child of Vladyka Vitaly (Ustinov). He was a bishop in England, Brazil, and Canada. He came to Germany to help the elderly Vladyka Philothei (Narko), the Archbishop of Berlin and Germany. He took on all current affairs. He was a remarkable diocesan bishop, a great ascetic. My father was good friends with Vladyka Paul. He often stayed with us when he was in Frankfurt. He blessed me for monasticism. He also tonsured and ordained Vladyka Mark (Arndt) as a hieromonk.
—How did you meet Vladyka Mark?
—I knew him from the Frankfurt community, before I was tonsured. By that time, when things went downhill for me in college after returning from America, he was already serving in Wiesbaden. He started laboring there according to the Athonite typikon and a brotherhood formed around him. They were my friends. Fr. Nikolai Artemov, now the priest at the Cathedral of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia and St. Nicholas in Munich, was already married then. I’d already known Natasha, now his matushka, for a long time as well. They had moved to Wiesbaden to Vladyka Mark, still an archimandrite then, before me. This was my longstanding circle of friends, which my older brother Michael had drawn me into. They were older than me. When I was thirteen, they were already eighteen, but I somehow pulled myself up; and when they would go out for a walk I would join them. Then I started going to Weisbaden. They had a very strict typikon there: They got up before four in the morning and served Midnight Office, kathismas, canons, and Liturgy every day. How I loved it all!
—Vladyka Mark called the Weisbaden parish “our little paradise, from which we were expelled.”
—Yes, when Vladyka Mark was consecrated in 1980, he moved to the Monastery of St. Job of Pochaev in Munich. I followed him. So at twenty-four, I became a novice. And we’ve spent forty years together since then.
How does the spiritual life differ from politics?
—You never thought of getting married?
—I would joke then that I had gone to America to look for a wife but it turned out otherwise. There, in Jordanville, I first encountered the Pochaev tradition and realized that it was for me. It became native to me in the Munich monastery. And my political experience—NTS (National Alliance of Russian Solidarists), Posev, none of this satisfied me anymore. My father was publishing Posev, and I of course helped, with typesetting. My Godfather Eugene Romanovich Ostrovsky held senior positions and at one time headed the NTS, and I also participated in this movement. My Godfather invited me to restaurants quite often, and we would sit and talk. But in politics, you have to constantly inflate yourself, set goals for yourself. On the contrary, in the spiritual life, you wait for the Lord to act.
—Your episcopal consecration came twenty years after your tonsure. Is it symbolic for you that it coincided with the glorification of Sts. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), Theophan the Recluse, and Philaret of Moscow in the Russian Church Abroad?
—In his parting word, Vladyka Laurus ordered me to use the writings of these three Holy Hierarchs. Immediately after my consecration, the sisters of the Gethsemane Convent in the Holy Land gave me an icon with a particle of the relics of St. Theophan.
—Bishop Mark called you, “the most gifted hierarch.”
—A lot of things came together then. The Kursk Root Icon was present. The Synod was actually in session at that time. Vladyka Hilarion (Kapral), our current First Hierarch, arrived from Australia. It was a lot for me. The sisters from the Holy Land were there: Abbess Moiseya (Bubnova) from the Holy Ascension Mount of Olives Monastery and Mother Elizabeth (Shmelts) from Gethsemane, as well as Mother Magdalena. And then, already in 2001, you could feel an ecclesiastical upswing in Russia. Before that, it was very difficult to buy episcopal vestments, except Greek style. But we wanted Russian! Before that, such vestments were sewn privately at home. It was always a problem trying to get them for our hierarchs. But they gave me a full set of vestments in all the colors! That’s why Vladyka said that about me.
The Lord has the last word
—Yes, these times are very favorable for the Russian Church. We have to take advantage of this. The fact that the restoration of canonical communion between the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Church Abroad occurred is an incredible event. Many positive things are happening. The dioceses of the Russian Church are growing now. New bishops are being consecrated.
—We can say that with us, when a bishop takes up his cathedra, he sees the entire population of his diocese as at least potentially his flock.
—And how does a hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad view his flock?
—What is a bishop’s task first of all? To educate the priesthood that then takes care of the flock. You realize that two-thirds of our priests work in civilian jobs. The community does not support them. This is how parish life is arranged for us. The first priority for me as a bishop is to care for the clergy. We have to literally persuade the people to support the priests in some way so the Divine services would be possible. Of course, there were missionary-enlighteners like St. Nikolai of Japan. But in the current situation, there may simply be no strength left for missionary work. What problems in the society around us can we talk about when a parish is unable to feed its priest? To say nothing of deacons, readers, and widows. In the fourth century, the Roman Church fed 1,800 widows. And how many Christians were there? Rome was a city of a million. Christians were around ten percent, so let’s say 100,000, and so many widows they were supporting. People were probably more sacrificial then. They tithed.
—And by the way, no one has canceled tithing.
—Yes. But if people really gave it, then there would be room for social work, and programs to educate children and young people, so they wouldn’t hurt themselves with drugs, wouldn’t have abortions. How many lives could be saved…
But people are somehow scattered, every man for himself. As a rule, parishes rely on a couple of people. How can we get out of this situation? Supporting a priest is a collective problem. Sometimes priests are skillful—they know how to attract people somehow. But others don’t know how to build relationships. But the services are celebrated either way! This is the most important thing. This is what we must value.
Whatever the priest is like—maybe he’s rude, needs the latest model of Lexus, or a Mercedes—okay! But if there are services, this is the achievement of achievements. Although, it is of course a pity if priests have such demands.
—How can people not be tempted?
—Once, St. Anthony the Great asked why there are poor and rich people. It’s the most basic question, which the whole world suffers from. Especially in Russia, this two-class society, divided into the poor and the rich, is acutely felt. There are those who have money, and those who don’t. St. Anthony simply groaned about it: “Why is it so?!” And the Lord said to him: “It’s none of your business!” Be silent, and that’s it.
—How can we learn to live according to the Gospel?
—Let me tell you about my experience in the spiritual life. In a monastery, when you start doing something special with the novices, demanding something from them, nothing really works out! I made this rule for myself: You live your life and wait for the Lord to give you access to your neighbor. But, of course, you have to have special conditions for this. It’s clear in a monastery: All the inhabitants are one family. But even between spouses it happens that they live together and you don’t know whether they are spiritually close. In the spiritual life, you wait and watch how the Lord will act.