--- In email@example.com
, michael nikitin
> I didn't see Metr. Vitaly's picture on the wall with the other
> reposed first hierarchs. Why is that?
> Michael N
When you ask the question like that, you make it sound like you made
the effort to attend services for Batiushka.
Were you there?
If not, are you using a request for prayers for a departed archpriest
whom so many of us love to gratuitously slam his grieving parish over
something you've already asked about here before?
What is Christian about that?
I do not know why the photo is missing. Maybe it hurt to much to look
at Vladyka Vitaly's photo knowing that he was in the hands of people
who were abusing his trust up there in Canada. Maybe something
happened to the frame and it was being replaced. Maybe it wasn't a
very good picture and someone wanted to replace it with a better one
and then some things came up.
But let me focus, instead, on Fr. Roman. Maybe it will encourage
We became parishioners when St. Mark of Ephesus Church burned down
for the first time, the old one on 39 Albano Avenue where there is
still just a vacant field now. My mother had died and my father was
going to marry my very young stepmother and we started attending
Sunday Liturgy there. Batiushka gradually got us to attend Vigil and
the Saturday Church School as well. With varying degrees of success
we learned to read Russian letters and sing the eight tones. Church
School went from 3:00 to 5:00, with one hour of Law of God (in
English for those who spoke no Russian and in Russian for everyone
else) and one hour of Russian followed by children's choir practice
and a snack and Vigil. All children were required to sing Vespers,
and Matushka Irina found ways to get us to read parts of the service.
The younger children would be given shorter prayers, and the older
children were drilled until they could read "Vouchsafe O Lord"
("Spodobi Gospodi"). There were funny mistakes, like the time a
little girl piously said, "Gospodi pomilui tree raza," ("Lord have
mercy three times"), because that's what was written. But the
excitement of the younger children as they waited their turn to read,
and the triumph of the older children, when they finished a difficult
passage, paved the way for having a choir full of readers and singers.
There were bleak years when attendance was down. There were years
when the Saturday night choir was, by the end of the service, my
godfather Sergei Yulievich Conus, my brother Joseph, and me. Dad
called us "the cats on the fence." But Serge taught Joseph and Joseph
taught me, and when we needed a choir director, Joseph was able to
fill in. He made me learn the Soprano, Alto and Tenor parts so that
whoever was absent, I could fill in. I thought it was useless
knowledge that I'd never need again. I was very wrong.
Fr. Roman worked tirelessly and faithfully and patiently, encouraging
people to attend more services, to do just one thing more than they
had done before. "Try, Annushka," he would encourage. In confession,
he would explain WHY a sin was bad, so that one could fight it more
When newcomers came, converts from the Boston area, he welcomed them.
When the third wave of Russians came, he made them welcome. When the
fourth wave of Russians came, he expanded the Sunday School. It
helped that there were more weddings and births, ten weddings the
year we married, 24 children born in two years after (two of them
When Fr. George moved to Boston to court me, Fr. Roman made him
welcome and put him to work reading on kliros. At our wedding, he
spoke of the need to establish a marriage before seeking to serve,
and encouraged us to wait a year before Fr. George was ordained
deacon. He spoke warmly about his own time as deacon, and encouraged
all deacons to remain in that state for as long as possible, to learn
as much as they could before becoming priests.
When Fr. George was his deacon, Fr. Roman taught him how to serve
precisely and with attention. When Fr. George was ordained priest and
sent to Houston, the first time he did each service, he would call
Boston and ask Batiushka for details -- at the begining of a wedding,
a priest comes out vested or just in cuffs? Batiushka would laugh,
and answer, and encourage, and call for follow-up.
Meanwhile, from a thousand and a half miles away, Fr. Roman remained
and example of steadfastness. When he was first diagnosed with
cancer, he also fell, on vacation, and broke five ribs. And he
served, with cancer and five broken ribs. And soul by soul, the
Every time I came home for a visit, I marvelled at how the parish was
growing, was spruced up, with a table for children in the trapeza and
then a mural behind the table. Every place where it would have been
nice to have a lamp or a shelf in the past, there was a lamp, or a
shelf. In the 1990's when I was visiting I was impressed that there
were 25 people for Vigil. A few years back when I was visiting, there
were that many in the children's choir for Vespers alone.
When we moved to Connecticut, it was so good to be able to visit
Boston, and to be at services with Batishka once more. He had help,
more clergy, and was able to travel. When he was still able, he would
visit Sea Cliff, Stratford, Methuen, where it was always so good to
see his smile, and to see Matushka Irina, who faithfully took him
And everywhere, and in everything, he taught. He studied about bells
and gave talks and explained to the parish the importance of having
good Russian bells and obtained them for our parish and shared with
other parishes what he had learned and how one could find bells. He
sent parishioners to the Jordanville music school, so that the choir
now is one of the best not only in America but also of all the
parishes abroad, with many, many people on each part able to read not
just the notes but also Slavonic texts. The Church School moved from
being housed in nooks and crannies to taking over the house next
door, with classes in English and Russian. And it's gone from being
just Batiushka, with five broken ribs, to having many priests and
deacons and subdeacons and readers. And this is because Fr. Roman
believed, and taught, and encouraged.
He had the rare gift of refusing to judge. Often in families there
are conflicts. One friend reported how someone was indignant that
Batiushka would not take sides in a family dispute. He told my
friend, "What can I do? I am priest to the son, and I am priest to
the father." And as priest, he would not condemn, he would only
instruct and encourage.
Batiushka's love was reflected and returned by the parish. His
funeral was so packed that I could get to the choir only by putting
one foot in one vacant space and somehow squeezing the rest of me
into whatever space was above it, step by step till I made it
upstairs. His pannikhida was too crowded even for that. Those who
made it inside the church were lucky, and they weren't going
anywhere. The Sisterhood co-ordinated a meal after to which everyone
brought something, and even though they gave us all enormous plates,
even at the end of the line (I was talking to people and got
distracted), even taking only a tablespoon from each dish, one could
not fit a little of everything on one plate.
Fr. Roman believed in order. Living in the epicenter of open letters,
he never defended himself when under attack. More than one bishop had
been turned against him by envious neighboring clergy, none of whom
are still with us. He never spoke against the hierarchs, and never
allowed others to speak against them, either. Years after an incident
he told me how someone had threatened to suspend him "pending
investigation." When he asked what the charges were, specifically, as
was his right, the man hung up and never brought the subject up
again. I was indignant and asked why he didn't make people aware of
this and protest. He said that would be wrong. "And, Annushka, if he
had suspended me, my job would be to hang up my epitrahil and not
serve until I was cleared."
I protested, and said that it would be his duty, rather, to complain
to everyone and make the injustice known. "No," he said, and
explained that a priest should have faith. The truth will come out
and the unjustly accused will be exonnerated. "If a man does not
believe that, he has no business serving."
He had very great dedication to Holy Trinity Monastery, and took the
parish on several pilgrimages, including the one where I met my
husband. He had great dedication to St. Xenia and to the Royal
Martyrs and New Martyrs, encouraging all to be at the glorifications
and going himself. I was blessed to stand behind him when they
unveiled the icon of St. Xenia as shown on You Tube. The icon was
unveiled, the bishops wept, Batiushka wept, Matushka wept, and I
found myself crying, as well.
He went out of his way to teach us practical things. He took a
considerable amount of time to show me how to wash grapes and cut the
bunches into small clusters so the priest can hand them out easily.
He translated Matushka Znosko-Borovsky's recipe for prosphora for us
and explained in detail the chemistry of prosphora making, the
difference in outcome if one moistens the bottom of the top and not
the top of the bottom in putting the layers together, the importance
of using the right kind of flour. Before they left us, Holy
Transfiguration Monastery used to send him deacons to train in
serving, and I remember more than one person censing the empty church
with an unlit censer during our Law of God classes. Each new deacon
would have a book under his right arm as he learned to control the
censer. After a while, the new deacon was my husband. He learned so
Fr. Roman's dedication to the New Martyrs was great. He had the
parish commision an icon by the late Nikolai Andreevich Papkov, with
the Royal Martyrs in the center and, on the edge, the four elements
of the earth (earth, air, fire and water) being used to torment the
New Martyrs. Many of our parishioners were at their Glorification,
and when I was sent a copy of "Russia's Catacomb Saints" to review
for "Religion in Communist Lands," I saw several of us in the photo
on the cover. When he told us, during the sermon at church, about the
life of the New Martyr Lydia, whose life is in that book, a priest's
daughter who was martyred but spared defilement because of the
soldier Alexander who also chose to be martyred for protecting her,
he wept. The things he said made an impression because we knew they
came from his heart, which was dedicated to God.
In the end, his service to the church was martyric. Not everyone
knows that his eyes were failing. For my brother Daniel's wedding, he
had to read the crowning prayers in 20 pt. type with an illuminated
magnifying glass -- and yet he served. When the chemo stole his hair,
his energy, his beard, he didn't hide, and he didn't stop. He served.
When he had to sit down to hear confessions, he still heard them, and
it seemed appropriate to kneel in front of both him and the Gospel to
confess. More than one person, when asked how Batiushka was in these
last months, replied, "luminous."
I was sorry that my post didn't go up on the list until Sunday, even
though I sent it Friday, because I was hoping to let more people know
about the date and the service, but as things stand, there was no
more room in the church, not even for one person. I hope, Mike, that
you have kept Batiushka in your prayers, especially during his first
forty days. But what consoles me is all the years that Batiushka kept
us in his prayers.
Matushka Ann Lardas