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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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