September 3, 2013
"I was impressed by their love for the Church, their clergy, and their parishes" ‒ An Interview with Bishop George about his trip to the Diocese of Australia

For most of the month of July, His Grace George, Bishop of Mayfield, performed an Archpastoral visit to the Diocese of Australia & New Zealand. Upon his return to the United States, His Grace met with the Director of the Eastern American Diocesan Media Office Reader Peter Lukianov and spoke about the impressions of his trip and life in the Australian Diocese.

Your Grace, thank you for this opportunity to speak with you. First things first – why did you visit Australia?

The purpose of my visit was to serve in various parishes for their parish feast days, visits that His Eminence, Metropolitan Hilarion, had scheduled months ago. Unfortunately, His Eminence was not able to make the trip, so he asked me to go in his place and serve at the various parishes. When the people heard that I was coming, they requested that I serve in other parishes, as well. In all, I served Divine Liturgy eleven times in the month I was there; seven of these were parish feast days.

What was your overall impression of life in the Australian Diocese? What can you say about the faithful that live there?

I was quite impressed by the Australian Diocese, and by the faithful. The diocese is quite active, and the clergy are very close and supportive of each other. I was at several gatherings of clergy and their families, and it seems like they are all one family. The faithful were also very warm and friendly. In all the parishes, the people would come up to me and personally welcome me to Australia, and offer their best wishes for my stay there. I was moved by their warmth, generosity, and hospitality.

What was your favorite aspect of the trip? What left a lasting impression?

 Seeing clergymen whom I knew years ago, who graduated from Holy Trinity Seminary, and meeting their families, as well as meeting the other clergy and the faithful in the parishes. That was very heart-warming. I found the Australian people in general to be very friendly and courteous. It reminded me of the United States about 40 years ago. Their lifestyle is not so fast-paced and hectic.

Would you say that there is something wrong with a fast-paced lifestyle?

It is this fast-paced life-style which harms our spiritual life, making us think only about finishing our present task so that we can move on to the next one, meanwhile forgetting about God and prayer. Despite all of the so-called "time-saving devices" that our society has invented in the past 50 years, it seems that we have even less time for what is most important: prayer, and going to church. So many people omit their prayers, and skip church services because they are supposedly too busy. It is a matter of having the proper priorities in life. We should be doing what is most important for eternal life, not our temporal life.

Tell us about the parishes that you visited –how are they different from parishes in the Eastern American Diocese? Did you see any interesting diocesan traditions or customs? Is there anything that you would like to see implemented in our Diocese?

I visited a variety of parishes: some of them were very big and beautiful, while a few others were more modest in size, more like many of the parishes in our Diocese here. I was struck by how many people attended services, Vigils as well as Liturgy. (Of course, there were some who would go to wherever we were having a hierarchal service – they were very happy to have a bishop serving in a local parish.) When I served for Sts. Peter & Paul in the Cathedral in Strathfield (a suburb of Sydney) for their parish feast day on a Friday, there were more than 300 people present. Their big hall could not contain everyone, and they set up a big tent outside. The sisterhood prepared the food for people, perhaps half of which were from neighboring parishes. Very many people took time off of work to attend the services. You would not see this in our parishes here in the U.S.

I was impressed by their love for the Church, their clergy, and their parishes. They really contribute to help their parishes and monasteries, both physically and financially. The churches are quite beautiful, and the monasteries do not have to worry about making money to support themselves. The monks and nuns work, of course, but they do not have the burden of trying to "make money." That is always a concern for our ROCOR monasteries here in the U.S. There the monastics just say their prayers and do whatever needs to be done in performing their obediences. The parishes all pay their dues and support the diocese as well. They were genuinely shocked to hear that all of our parishes do not support their diocese and monasteries in the same way.

In your opinion, why do the parishes and people support the diocese and monasteries so well in Australia? Are the people generally more caring and involved or is it something else?

It is hard for me to say why their parishes have a different attitude toward supporting their diocesan administration and their monasteries, since I didn’t really discuss that with them, but I saw that they simply realize that this is their Christian duty. It is something they take for granted.

What kind of work is being done to help encourage youth involvement in the Church?

The clergy are very active with the youth. One priest was getting ready to take a group of youth to Russia for a pilgrimage, continuing on to the Holy Land from there. Many people save up their money just to go on these group pilgrimages. The priest was leading a group of 120 people to the Holy Land this time, his 14th such group pilgrimage. I would like this to become more popular among our youth. These pilgrimages, to the Holy Land and Russia, are very important in strengthening the faith and spiritual life of our faithful, especially our youth.

Did you have an opportunity to do some sightseeing during your trip?

I was able to fly up to Melbourne to see the clergy and some old friends, and they took me to Tamborine Mountain. There were some beautiful views, a kind of rain forest with huge gum trees, and some exotic birds. In general, it seems that there are very few birds and trees there that are the same as ours in North America. I was also taken to the Blue Mountains, a few hours’ drive from Sydney. It is almost like our Grand Canyon, filled with Australian trees and vegetation; very beautiful. I went to visit our monasteries "in the bush," as they say. They are in very remote locations, and use solar panels and generators for electricity, and they collect rain water – and pump water from the river – for drinking water and the irrigation of gardens. During that drive into the mountains, I saw many kangaroos and wallabies. 

Can you tell us more about life in Australian monasteries? What is the general attitude of the faithful towards monasticism, and do they perform pilgrimages often?

The oldest ROCOR monastery in Australia is the women’s monastery in Kentlyn, about 50 km from Sydney. It is dedicated to the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God. There is a brief history of the convent on the Synod website here. I served at their old church, located right next to the Kazan Church and dedicated to All Saints, on its feast day. The old church is now an English-language parish, with about 35 parishioners. There are about six nuns at the convent, with Mother Maria as their Abbess, and their services are all in Church Slavonic. After serving in the Church of St. John the Baptist in Canberra on their parish feast day, I rode with Abbess Anna and Mother Christina to their convent, in Bungarby, New South Wales. The convent has seven sisters and is dedicated to the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple. It is a few hours’ drive from Canberra, in a very isolated location. They get their electricity from solar panels and generators, and their water is from the river (pumped to a holding tank up on the hillside) and rainwater. They are living in comparatively small quarters now, with a wooden chapel about 100 yards away, but their new monastery buildings, about a half mile away, are almost completed. In the future, they hope to build a new church, as well.

The next evening, Abbess Anna drove me to the men’s convent in Bombala, about an hour and a half away. It is dedicated to the Holy Transfiguration. The Abbot is Fr. Sergius (Shatrov), while the founder, Archimandrite Alexis (Rosentool), is the spiritual father. They also have one other priest, Hieromonk Macarius (Eriksen), two monks, and a novice. Many of the faithful from the parishes come to the monastery to pray and to work. Much of the monastery was built by the parishioners, many of whom are skilled in construction. They have a guesthouse with beds for 59 people, but which can hold over 100 people. The guests are expected to bring their own sheets and blankets, and to clean up after themselves. They often spend their school and work vacation time helping at the monastery. 

Where do the monasteries get their monastic candidates from? Are they local Australians, Russians or third and fourth generation immigrants?

The backgrounds of the monastics at the convent and the monastery are similar: some of them are Russian-Australians, some are Australian converts, and some are American converts.

The Eastern American Diocese and the Australian Diocese have an interesting feature in common: the main language of the local population is English. What is the primary service language in Australia – English or Slavonic? Do the people speak mostly Russian or English among themselves?

The primary language used in the services is Church Slavonic, although there are several parishes where the services are all in English. Some parishes use only Slavonic, while others use a combination of Slavonic and English. Overall, we use more English in our services here in America than they do in Australia, but we have many more converts, too. I met five convert priests while I was there, and most of them have learned to serve in Slavonic. I gave sermons in English in all the churches where I served, and there was just one woman who remarked (in English) that it was unfortunate that I did not give the sermon in Russian. Among themselves it seems they use English if everyone understands, or Russian when necessary. In the Strathfield parish, there is a church school on Saturdays with 120 students, in which they teach Russian language, as well as Church subjects.

Thank you for your time, Vladyka; it sounds like your trip was a wonderful experience. In closing, what would you like to say to the faithful of Australia after your trip?

I would just like to thank them for their warmth, kindness, and hospitality. It was a great joy to be among such pious Orthodox Christians. Good on ya!


Arrival in Sydney

June 29 - Liturgy in Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Strathfield

June 30 - Liturgy in All Saints Church in Kentlyn

July 6 - Liturgy in St. John of Shanghai Church in Gunning

July 12 - 60th Anniversary of Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Strathfield

July 14 - Liturgy in All Saints of Russia Church in Croydon

July 15 - Liturgy in St. John the Baptist Church in Canberra

July 21 - 75th Anniversary of St. Vladimir's Church in Sydney

July 24 - Liturgy in Holy Virgin Protection Church in Cabramatta

Visit to Holy Transfiguration Men's Monastery in Bomballa

Visit to the Presentation of the Mother of God Convent in Bungarby

Visit to Holy Virgin Protection Church in Melbourne

Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese