November 10, 2016
"Our Roots are in the Russian Church" – An Interview with
Archimandrite Luke (Murianka)
From September 21 to 25, 2016 the solemn celebrations took place in
dedicated to the 1,000-year anniversary of Russian monastic presence
on Mount Athos. Archimandrite Luke (Murianka), rector and associate
professor of Patrology at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY,
was invited to take part in the celebrations, which included an
academic conference, as well as a meeting of all abbots and abbesses
of the Russian Church. Deacon Andrei Psarev interviewed Fr. Luke,
asking him to share his impressions from this solemn event.
Luke, you have just come back from a very rapid visit to Russia; you
spent less than a week there. Your commitment to Jordanville is very
impressive. What was the occasion for your visit?
I was invited to the celebration of the 1,000th anniversary of
Russia's monastic presence on Mt. Athos. There was a gathering of
more than 600 abbots and abbesses in Moscow in order to take part in
church services, lectures, talks and the opening of an exhibit in
the museum of Christ the Savior commemorating the event.
It was a five-day event. I understand there were many experts on the
theme from the various corners of the world. What did you learn from
this intensive time in Moscow?
There were talks given by His Holiness, Patriarch Kyrill, talks that
were edifying and directed to us – the members of the monastic
community, especially the abbots and abbesses – encouraging us,
giving us some guidelines. They presented a picture of the far past
(before the revolution), what happened during the revolution, and
exactly what is going on in contemporary monastic life. What I found
very moving and refreshing was that His Holiness very realistically
described the situation in Russia and the strengths and the weakness
that monastic life in Russia now faces.
The other talks were by bishops and priests from various areas,
mostly from Russia. I would like to mention the talk on the history
of the Athonite monastic traditions by Hieromonk Kyrion of St.
Panteleimon’s monastery, and also the lecture of Dr. Jean-Claude
Larchet, who spoke concerning spiritual life and monasticism. Some
of the more edifying for me were about the importance of confession,
the revelation of thoughts, and the significance of obedience. Other
talks were of a more historical, academic nature.
For me, the ones that were more practical were the most important,
and I came away with some ideas that I could bring home. That was
the most important reason for going: so I could help to improve, to
form, the monastic community here in Jordanville.
Did you go to Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra?
No. We had a choice on that day; the entire group was split. One
remained in Moscow with the Patriarch to hear his address toward us
abbots and abbesses, and the other group of a more academic
inclination went [to Holy Trinity Lavra]. Although I would have
liked to have gone and visited the Lavra, the reason I traveled to
Moscow was my being the abbot of a monastery, and so, I needed to be
present when the Patriarch expressed his ideas and gave us his
Did you have a chance to meet your peers, abbots from Russia or
other places, to exchange opinions?
I did have time in between the lectures. There were so many talks
and it was so saturated that we even missed some of the breaks that
were actually scheduled, because we just kept going.
But in between talks and at other times, I did have the opportunity
to have longer discussions with the abbots in Russia, three in
particular, and I addressed some of my thoughts to Abbess Sophia
from St. Petersburg. I was very impressed with what she had to say
about the difficulties that abbots and abbesses have now in Russia
because of the cultural and psychological environment among the
young people. Monastic formation necessitates an extremely
individual approach to each person.
She made an interesting comment about what she has to deal with
today: worse than any kind of drug addiction is the Internet. Of
course, that fact came out many times during the conference. The
Patriarch and others brought up the problem that some monastics are
obsessed with cell phones and the Internet. This is part of the real
world; this is part of being open to the world. We have to expect
the monastics to come with their difficulties, their weaknesses, and
we have to look at these things and deal with them with open eyes.
We can’t idealize. We just need to accept them, and again, as she
stated, monastic formation requires a very individual approach. Not
only one rule for everybody. That is impossible.
May I conclude, generally, that your impressions are quite positive?
I was very edified. I think that the Patriarch and others were able
to very clearly define that two of the major problems in Russia are
that there has not been a continuity with the past and that many of
the heads of the monasteries, the abbots and abbesses, are young. As
he said, "you have to teach others, but you yourself are learning."
Because of communism, spiritual leaders and monasteries were
destroyed. The people from whom some kind of continuity could have
been passed on were lost in many cases and, probably, in the
majority of cases.
So, many monastic communities are being established with people who
have very little experience and training from an older generation.
They are starting completely fresh. It is like starting from zero,
and as Vladyka [Metropolitan] Laurus told me once, but I did not
understand at the time, Russia has to start again from the days of
St. Vladimir. Now more and more, I see that this is actually the
I am very grateful for having heard about continuity, because it
gives me a better perspective on our monastery. We do have a
continuous tradition. I think of the generation that is gone now. I
was able to learn from them, to have fellowship with them, and to be
under obedience to them. I know that where they gained their
monastic experiences is genuine and connected to the past.
From the physical connection, from reading what many of the older
fathers have left behind, and mostly, from being advised by them
about many things, I recall exactly what they said. They, indeed,
did form me. Since I saw how they were formed, I know that there is
a continuous tradition here in Jordanville.
And perhaps that is what we can bring to the table?
Well, we could if we are humble enough not to think we have all the
answers. If I thought that I could go teach 600 abbots and abbesses
in Russia, that would be absurd, and I wouldn’t even think of it for
I did share some of my thoughts. I repeated some of the words of
Archimandrite Cyprian (Pyzhov), of Vladyka Laurus and other
Jordanville fathers and shared the experience I gained through the
four decades that I have been in the monastery.
They were all younger than I am; in fact, everyone seemed to be more
or less younger than I am, except probably His Holiness.
And you were probably one of the senior clergymen by your
Well, to some degree probably. I didn’t ask. We know we are not
supposed to take the first place, so I hid until they actually,
literally, dragged me out to the front. They kept pushing me forward
and forward, until finally I was nearly next to the last bishop.
Somebody actually did push me and said, "Go! Go up there!"
So, basically, what I hear from your response is that, with some
humility, we could contribute something?
Yes, I think we probably could, but on an individual basis if people
ask us questions. Through my personal contact, I was very freely
expressing my thoughts, what I had lived through, and the lessons
that I learned from the older fathers.
In every case, I saw that these were received with surprise, with
some amazement. People were very edified, as if this was the first
time they had heard these things. They actually mentioned, "Well, we
don’t know how to deal with these things. This is amazing! We have
never heard this before, and we could use this experience."
I think that, unfortunately, of course, many times the young abbots
and abbesses just pick up books, rules, monastic guides, and they
just start with these texts. They don’t have too much of a living
tradition to interpret them, to know how to use them. I just spoke
from the heart, and it seemed to make an impression. I didn’t expect
that. I wasn’t there to make impressions.
Fr. Luke, why is Russia important to the monastic and academic
community of Jordanville? Why is it important to stay in tune with
Well, because we are part of the Russian Church. It's where our
roots are – in the Russia Church.
There is a lot of true renewal of spiritual life, of monastic life.
Very sincere people are living an Orthodox lifestyle, living a
monastic lifestyle, trying to. I think it’s good to have, as much as
we can, contact with these people, and we can learn from them. We
can be edified, inspired, by them, by what they are doing. By
talking to them and listening, I came away with very useful
information, inspiring services, pious practices, and attitudes. I
think people should go and experience this also.
The scholarship in Russia, the academic world, is vast. It’s growing
all the time. Although I don't know the entire limit or scope of
what is going on, I sometimes get a feeling that theological,
academic life has remained in the 19th century or close to the 20th
century. That is why sometimes some of their theological attitudes,
etc., come to us as a surprise. It’s almost as if you were speaking
to people from 1840 or 1880 and not from the experience that we had,
which came from those spiritual leaders who nurtured the beginning
and continual life of the Russian Church Abroad. That is another
very important subject.
Also, I deduce from what you said that the level of discussion, the
degree of discussion, was quite honest, quite open?
That was very refreshing. I remember 5 years ago, 10 years ago, when
I was in Russia for the talks in the commission between the two
churches for reconciliation, there was less of a desire to be open
about what happened in the past 70-80 years. Even when we mentioned
things, there seemed to be some reticence in discussing these
But this time, I heard both from His Holiness, Patriarch Kyrill, and
from others, many times, about the destruction by the Bolsheviks,
the cruelty, the massive loss of life, etc. The conversation was
very open and a very frequent, whereas in the past they were somehow
not always anxious to bring these things up. This time, more and
more, there was absolutely no hesitation, and even the last thing
the Patriarch said was, "Well, soon it will be 2017, and this will
be a good time for us to recall and reexamine, revisit, exactly what
has happened to us and why it all happened."
Of course, it is very important for Russia that there is a true
Orthodox spiritual understanding about the Revolution – not a
political, but a spiritual, understanding of what all of that means
and how it happened. As the people say, "It is almost as if God
said, ‘You want to create paradise on earth? Then, you try to do
that and see what happens. See how you can live without Me and
without the God-preserved Russian Tsar.’" St. John of Kronstadt
mentioned that you must not touch the Anointed One or there will be
a bloodbath. Of course, this all took place exactly how the prophets
of Russia said it would take place. So, I think all this is being
revisited. From what I see, it is from a very good perspective.
The Patriarch mentioned many weaknesses in monasticism; he said some
of these were present in prerevolutionary Russia. He said the
monastery should be a place of prayer and not a collective farm
where people just work. He said we have to be very careful that we
don’t think that there is a good monastic life if everybody is just
working day and night. He said that is not what we are here for. You
might say he reprimanded us, chided us, directed us, revealed some
weaknesses from the past and the present with hopes that these would
not continue into the future but that there would be improvement.
In the end, he said that things have to be done very carefully and
with love. We must not come out with a hammer or a hatchet and try
to use military discipline on people. That is totally not the way to
go about correcting things, and we have to remember the individual
when we begin to apply the rules. I believe that is absolutely
correct, and I have always believed this.
Now, if you allow for a nice conclusion to this interview, so we
remember the individual and show love.
When you begin to apply rules, etc., you have to do it with love and
remember the individual, not hammer people and insist that there is
one rule for everyone. Keep this in mind. There are general things
that are good and should be striven for. We all have to consider the
times we live in and the people we are dealing with when we begin to
correct and direct.
Thank you very much for this informative interview, Fr. Luke. I am
very happy to hear about your trip and your positive impressions.
I would like to thank the organizers of the conference for inviting
me. I was very impressed by their work. Many young people were
involved. What impressed me most of all was that all of them were
very respectful, attentive, and spiritually cultured, from start to
finish – to the last person that opened the trunk in the taxi to
send me to the airport. He bowed to me, took my blessing, and said,
"God bless your trip. May an angel go with you."
Photo credit: Archpriest Nikolay Balashov’s Facebook page.