The Life of Archbishop Averky of Syracuse by Hieromonk Ignatius18 min read
The Life of His Eminence Archbishop Averky of Syracuse and Holy Trinity Monastery by Priestmonk Ignatius
“It only remains, for the Great Basil, who always suggested to me many topics for my sermons, to offer himself at present as the subject for the preacher.” With these words St. Gregory the Theologian begins his eulogy, delivered in the fourth century over the grave of his close friend the tireless preacher and defender of the Orthodox faith, St. Basil the Great. These words of St. Gregory are wholly applicable to our hierarch Averky, Archbishop of Syracuse and Holy Trinity, deceased in the Lord March 31/April 13. Who thus, besides Vladika Averky, up to his very death, so edified his flock from the ambo with such inspiring sermons! And what need be said of his edifying articles which appeared in our bi-weekly publication, “Orthodox Russia”? We know that his words were read and re-read not only by our individual subscribers, but often by our clergy from the ambos of their churches. Thus, Vladika Averky’s sermons resounded through the whole of our Russian diaspora, and even at times penetrated behind the iron curtain.
And so he sleeps the sleep of death until the general resurrection; he who taught all of us who were willing to listen and read his words, now offers himself as the subject for an edifying discourse.
The Childhood Years of Vladika Averky
His Eminence Archbishop Averky, (in the world known as Alexander Pavlovich Taushev), was born on October 19, 1906 (old style), in the city of Kazan, Simbirsk Province, into the noble family of Paul Sergievich Taushev and his wife Maria Vladimirovna. Vladika Averky’s father having finished his studies at the Military-Judicial Academy in St. Petersburg, served in the military-judicial branch of the government until the Revolution of 1917. “The demands of my father’s job,” recalled Vladika about his childhood,* “were such as to require constant traveling throughout Russia. I thank the Lord that although I had to leave my beloved homeland early in life (1920), I still had the chance to see it, and it was deeply engraved on my child’s heart. Memories of our travels through Russia now seem to me like a dream, which will never be erased from my mind until death. I will never forget my visit to the sacred Kremlin, ‘the heart of Russia’ – in the high altar of Moscow, with her holy places, beginning with the Cathedral of the Dormition where our emperors were crowned and the primates of the Russian Church were enthroned; Trinity-Sergius with its holy relics of the ‘Protector of the Russian Land’, St. Sergius; the Lavra of the Kiev Caves; the Lavra of St. Alexander Nevsky with its cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul; Kazan Cathedral; and the Cathedral of St. Isaac and the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg. I do not believe that these now are of value only as museums and that the unity of Church and people which was there, the keystone, will not be revived.”
*The information about his childhood and Vladika’s stay in Bulgaria has been taken from his Recollections.
Reading was a favorite pastime of the young Alexander. He read every child’s book available, as well as Pushkin, Gogol, and Lermontov. “But what interested me the most,” recalled Vladika, “were the books located in a huge cupboard in my father’s study. Once my father had left for work, I loved to get into it and I was most fascinated by an enormous Russian Bible, lavishly illustrated by Gustav Doré which left a strong impression on me. Then with great delight, I read A Guide to the Holy Land and A Guide to Mount Athos. My parents were not particularly Church-minded people but were of deep religious convictions. My father, being very fond of ( missing text ), often sent for books of a spiritual nature printed by St. Panteleimon’s Monastery on the Holy Mountain Athos. Once in possession of these books, I was enthralled not only by their contents but by the sweet fragrance they emitted. Reading these books I simply reveled in this wonderful aroma and I was grieved when the time came for me to replace them in the cupboard. In this way I gradually became acquainted with Unseen Warfare which left a vivid impression on me as well as the book, What is the Spiritual Life and How to Attain It, by Bishop Theophan the Recluse, along with a collection of the bishop’s letters. I was ever thereafter influenced by what I read and more and more began to shun the ordinary worldly life that surrounded me. But I still did not feel in those early years any special attraction to the Church and I did not know or understand then our wonderful and incomparable divine services. That came later, gradually. In my soul, even then however, when I was seven or eight, the desire to lead a monastic life subconsciously was maturing; a life of renunciation of the usual worldly ways which somehow alienated me from itself and in which I could see nothing attractive.”
In 1914 the First World War broke out bringing Russia to a terrible bloody catastrophe. “The whole of life abruptly changed. An enormous upsurge or patriotism was felt everywhere. In all places, not only in the streets and institutions but in every individual family, could be heard talk about the war and the most intensive preparations for it. I remember in our family all the women were engaged in sewing, knitting and sending parcels for our soldiers at the front, in which they put everything which might comfort, cheer up and strengthen them in their struggle for the defence of the Fatherland against the enemy, beginning with crosses and icons to wear, amulets with the text of the 90th Psalm, ‘He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High’, knitted socks and sweaters, underwear and finally, sweets and tobacco. In the churches, molebens were constantly being said for those departing for the front and for the gift of victory for our ‘Christ-loving forces’. There was a display of patriotism with the singing of our wonderful national anthem, ‘God Save the Tsar’ – everything that happened then clearly testified to the unusual national patriotic upsurge, and it was not possible to imagine even what would take place some three years later.”
A lasting impression was made on our deceased Vladika by the Emperor Nicholas II with the Tsarevich on their visit to Lvov (Galicia) where Vladika’s father was working. “It was the only time in my life that I saw our most pious Emperor and his son and moreover, from a rather close distance. What general delight the appearance of the Emperor and the Heir aroused! What unceasing ‘hurrahs’ thundered through the immense square where the troops were lined up!”
After the abdication of the Emperor, events became more and more menacing. Dark clouds gathered over Russia. Anarchy turned into full devastation and lawlessness. After countless tribulations endured throughout Russia in the years of the Revolution, the Taushev family, in the beginning of 1920, left their homeland. “I remember,” Vladika wrote concerning this sad moment in his life, “what grief gripped my heart when we left Russian soil, even notwithstanding that we were fleeing from obvious mortal danger had we remained and fallen into the hands of these monsters, for whom nothing was sacred. With sinking hearts we watched the last Russian lights disappearing over the horizon. Farewell, our hapless, much-suffering Homeland! Could it really be forever?!”
Student Years in Bulgaria
The end of January 1920, saw Alexander and his parents newly arrived at their destination, the large Bulgarian port-city Varna. All incoming refugees were accommodated by the city authorities in hostels. There was soon opened here a Russian secondary school in which 250 students were enrolled, amongst whom was Alexander Taushev. “I recall the years of my studies at the gymnasium (school) – from 1920 to 1926 – with a most gratifying feeling. I very much loved to study and it was a real delight for me when we began the study of some new subject. I especially liked history and geography as well as the history of Russian literature. At one time I even took a great interest in Latin. Unfortunately, catechism was studied somewhat casually and these lessons left few traces. A spiritual and Church frame of mind had taken a stronghold on me for which I am indebted primarily to our Varna church and the priest Fr. John Slunin. I will not forget them as long as I live, for never after have I met or experienced anything similar. And even now I live only by these sacred memories and I find in them the courage to bear all afflictions.”
One year before he finished the gymnasium (high school), an event took place which once and for all confirmed in Alexander his decision to enter upon a monastic way of life and be tonsured a monk. In the summer of 1925, Archbishop Theophan of Poltava and Pereyaslav came to Varna from Yugoslavia. “I remember,” Vladika wrote, “how his unusual outward appearance deeply affected me; he was unlike any other hierarch that I had seen before. His prayerful way of serving and wonderful sermons inspired me with the spirit of the works of the ancient Church Fathers, the reading of whom enthralled me. Then suddenly, I learned that he had rented a summer house for the season five kilometers from the city and would spend every summer there, coming from Sophia, where he had taken up residence in the building belonging to the Bulgarian Synod. Some special, lofty spiritual joy filled my heart in the hope that I could often see this holy hierarch of God who had so struck me with his spirituality, and perhaps even talk with him. Immediately there came into my head the daring idea to ask him whether he would be my ‘starets’ – my spiritual father in monasticism which I had firmly decided to enter upon, since I saw in Vladika Theophan the ideal of a monk and holy hierarch that had long before taken shape in my mind and heart. And thus, the most fortunate day finally came when, having sought an audience with Vladika Theophan through our priest, I went to his summer house. It is difficult for me to express in words what I felt at my first meeting with this great hierarch. He inspired in me an unusual spiritual peace and such a fragrance of genuine holiness, which I have never encountered anywhere since… This meeting with Vladika Theophan firmly determined my future destiny: I steadfastly, without the slightest hesitation or doubt, resolved to undertake the monastic way of life.”
Having finished the gymnasium, earning a gold medal, Alexander with the blessing of Vladika Theophan, entered the Theological Faculty of the Royal University of Sophia. “On July 3rd, 1930, finally having successfully passed all the prescribed examinations, I received the diploma with a 5 average, or magna cum laude, that is with the highest marks. What was I to do next? I could have obtained some position in the Bulgarian Church; but I wanted to be a monk and serve our Russian Church in particular and labor in the spiritual vineyard for our own Russian people. I subscribed to a Church newspaper ‘Orthodox Carpatho-Russia’ and I formed the intention of setting out for Carpatho-Russia – at that time it was Czechoslovakia, where masses of Russian people were spontaneously returning to their own Orthodox Faith after an enslavement and oppression of many centuries of being cut off from Mother Russia and coerced forcibly by their enemies into a union with the Pope of Rome. Archbishop Theophan approved of and blessed my intention and even gave me a sum of money for the road since neither I nor my parents had the money to buy the train ticket. From Carpatho-Russia, in reply to my letter, I received notification signed by the ruling Bishop Iosif that I would enter into the service of the Mukachevo-Presov Orthodox Diocese as assistant secretary to the Diocesan Administrator in the city of Housta.”
Missionary Activity in Europe
The young Alexander left Bulgaria with mixed feelings. “On the one hand,” Vladika wrote, “sadness at parting from my beloved abba (Archbishop Theophan) and my parents whom I loved very much; on the other, joy that one way or another, with the blessing of my abba, I would come near to the realization of my cherished dream – becoming a monk, and moreover, on Russian soil which even officially bore a name that enticed me – Carpatho-Russia. The thought that I would be devoting myself to such a lofty missionary service as the return of our deceived and oppressed brothers in faith and blood to their own original Orthodox Faith – to the bosom of holy Orthodoxy – caused me joy.”
Soon after Alexander Taushev’s arrival in Carpatho-Russia, on May 17, 1931, he was tonsured a monk in the monastery of St. Nicholas, near the village of Iza, in the district of Housta, and given the new name Averky, in honor of St. Abercius, Equal-to-the-Apostles, Bishop of Hieropolis. On the following day, the newly tonsured monk was ordained deacon by Iosif, Bishop of Bitol.
In the following year, on the feast of the Annunciation, in the Devichy Monastery Dumboky, near Cherlenev, in the district Mukachev, hierodeacon Averky was ordained priestmonk. The ordination was performed by Bishop Damascene of Mukache-Presov. In June of the same year, priestmonk Averky was transferred to the Monastery of St. Nicholas, to serve the parishes of Nankov and Bornava and to assist the abbot of the monastery, Archimandrite Matthew. In September he was appointed assistant dean of the parish in Uzhgorod. On death of the dean of the parish, Fr. Averky undertook to fulfill the duties of dean. At the behest of Bishop Damascene, on August 7, 1935, priestmonk Averky was appointed editor-in-chief and publisher of the diocesan periodical “Orthodox Carpatho-Russian Herald” and after a year, teacher of catechism in the secondary schools at Uzhgorod.
On Pascha, 1937, Father Averky was elevated to the rank of abbot. In same year he was made a member of the sacerdotal committee. In December, 1938, Abbot Averky was appointed dean of the parish in Mukachev and administrator of the Mukachev-Presov Diocese in the kingdom of Hungary. At the same time he was charged with managing the archiepiscopal residence and all the diocesan property that remained in Mukachev. On April 27, 1939, Father Averky was appointed first referent of the diocesan administration.
When he was forced to leave Carpatho-Russia after its occupation by the Magyars and arriving in Belgrade in 1940, as he was in the service of the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Anastassy, Fr. Averky taught Pastoral Theology and Homiletics to the Pastoral-Missionary School and conducted a systematic course of lectures at the Russian House for all those interested in questions on the spiritual life based on the teachings of the Church Fathers. In the capacity of chairman of the educational section of the Belgrade Parish Council he periodically arranged religious instruction meetings, like: “The Day of Russian Glory” in memory of the Enlightener of Russia Equal-to-the-Apostles St. Vladimir, anniversary meetings in memory of St. Nicholas reposed 1600 years before, and Bishop Theophan the Recluse 50 years reposed, and others.
Living in Belgrade and later in Austria, Vladika had to endure all the horrors of the Second World War. Throughout these terrible years the only consolation for Fr. Averky was the custody of an object of great holiness – the wonder-working Kursk Icon of the Sign, which was then and remains the vessel of innumerable miracles.
In 1945 he arrived in Munich, Germany, together with the Synod of Bishops and for six years taught religion to the senior classes of two secondary schools – that of the Good Samaritan in Munich and that for the stateless in a refugee camp and also to the classes of nurses in the House of the Good Samaritan. At the same time, in the Synod headquarters, he conducted a systematic course of study in the works of the early Church Fathers. Many times he gave talks on scientific-theological and spiritual-ethical themes to groups of young people and in various refugee camps.
Missionary Activity in America
Appointed in 1950 by the Synod of Bishops to be chairman of their Missionary Education Committee, at the beginning of 1951 Archimandrite Averky came to Amerlca and was invited by Archbishop Vitaly to Holy Trinity Seminary to teach New Testament, Liturgics and Homiletics.
At the same time, Vladika recalled, “the first years of our being in America, there was still great general enthusiasm: the key was our church life, new parishes sprang up, churches were built, religious-educational and church-philanthropic organizations were founded, like the St. Vladimir Youth Society, the Foundation in the name of the ever-memorable Fr. John of Kronstadt (this was still before his canonization); often there were arranged, here and there, conferences and crowded church festivals; there existed an enormous religious fervor among the masses of faithful who found there a calm, peaceful and more or less secure existence and most zealously attended church.”
Vladika Averky, who was still an archimandrite but later was consecrated bishop, undertook great laborious and energetic work; as he had done in Europe, so now he did in the U.S.A. in the capacity of spiritual guide of the societies of the St. Vladimir Youth. With what aims were these societies set up?
“To help our Russian youth work out for themselves a correct Orthodox and Russian world-view, so that it would become the guiding principle of their lives – this is the aim of our St. Vladimir Youth Clubs,” Vladika stated at one of the St. Vladimir conferences. “We want to help you guard yourselves from the corrupting, destructive powers of sin which strongly threaten you in this country, abounding in material blessings, but at the same time in every temptation, and to reinforce in your souls those high ideals by which our native land lived through the course of many centuries. We want you to be worthy spiritual children of our common spiritual father and enlightener, St. Vladimir – the beautiful sun. We want to see you as bearers of that spiritual light, peace and joy which always radiated from our pious strugglers in the spiritual life: beginning with Prince St. Vladimir himself and his martyr sons Boris and Gleb, ‘those marvellous blossoms of the newly baptized Russian land’, in the words of the chronicler, and extending to the last canonized saint, closest in time to us, Seraphim of Sarov. He who was always like the sun, beaming with unearthly joy, greeting those who came to him with the words, ‘Christ has risen, my joy!’ We want not only that you do not get lost, disintegrate and sink in the sea of heterodoxy that surrounds you, but that you yourselves be lamps of the true Faith and unhypocritical Christian piety, in order that those of other faiths, by looking at you, may glorify the Orthodox Faith as the undoubtedly original faith of Christ. This is not an idle dream. We know countless foreigners who were fascinated by the lofty beauty of the Orthodox Russia soul and became ardent admirers of Russian Orthodox culture. And how many of them with great earnestness became Orthodox and as it is customarily expressed, became quite ‘Russified’ – became utterly Russian. We also want the power of your Russian Orthodox soul always to overcome every foreign, heterodox, noxious influence and temptation. We sincerely want this for you. But to accomplish all this in fact, to a greater or lesser extent, depends, of course, on you yourselves. You must fully realize that you are genuine Russian Orthodox people and you must love with your whole soul this lofty centuries-old ideal of the Russian people.”
From these young people who passed through the hands of Vladika Averky, some (the young men) became priests, sub-deacons, church choir directors, and others (the young women) became companions in life of those who served the Church or staunch Russian Orthodox teachers in their own families.
On February 17, 1952, Archimandrite Averky, by a decision of the Synod, was confirmed in the position of Rector of Holy Trinity Seminary which he held until his death.
During the twenty-four years that Archbishop Averky occupied this post, the Seminary produced for our Russian Church Abroad approximately one hundred priests, who succeeded our old pastors as they departed for eternal life.
On May 10, 1953, Archimandrite Averky was nominated to be bishop of Syracuse and Holy Trinity Monastery, and was consecrated on the Day of the Holy Spirit.
Archimandrite Averky made these noteworthy remarks on the day of his nomination:
“So great is the seduction of sin at the present time, so corrupt is the understanding even of those who call themselves Christians, that there is nothing more difficult than to appeal to the ideal of saintliness, to the ideal of Christian perfection. At present, genuine faith in Christ endures persecution, perhaps even more dangerous and destructive than in the times of the first Christians. These persecutions are more severe than those of the pagan era because then the Church was persecuted by people unacquainted with Christianity, while today she is persecuted by hardened apostates from Christianity, who are conscious enemies of the Church, genuine servants of the coming antichrist. As never before, there are now appearing all sorts of false messiahs and false prophets. But what is more frightening is that in the bosom of the Church itself there arise more and more people who ‘will come forward with a false message’ (Acts 20:30) – individuals who have forsaken true Christianity, denying its essence, and who at the same time are not ashamed to hypocritically call themselves servants of the Faith and of Christ’s Church… For the contemporary pastor there arises the most responsible and important task – to teach the faithful to become familiar with the true Church amidst many false churches and in a word, by being filled with spiritual strength and wisdom to maintain them in her bosom, and to attract those who are lost.”
On May 12, 1960, at the completion of forty days from the repose of Archbishop Vitaly, at the general meeting of the monastery brotherhood that took place with the blessing of the Primate of the Church, Metropolitan Anastassy, Vladika Averky was elected Abbot of Holy Trinity Monastery. This difficult burden Vladika carried out until his own repose.
Archbishop Averky was the chairman of the St. John of Kronstadt Foundation centered at the memorial church in Utica, directing help to the needy and actively participating in the publication of the “Information Bulletin” of this Foundation.
In 1961 Bishop Averky was elevated to the rank of archbishop. In addition to his basic duties as abbot, Vladika Averky did much pedagogical work in Holy Trinity Seminary, and up to the last days of his earthly life he actively participated in the publication of “Orthodox Russia” (Vladika wrote his last article for it the day before his repose), printing in almost every number his archpastoral instructions of religious-moral edification.
As the legacy of his pastoral work, Vladika Averky left several written works (in Russian):
1. A Handbook for Studies in the New Testament (in two volumes),2. A Guide to Homiletics, 3. True Orthodoxy in the Contemporary World (a collection of articles and sermons),4. Archbishop Theophan of Poltava and Pereyaslav, 5: The Present Times in the Light of God’s Word – Sermons and Speeches (in four volumes), and numerous pamphlets on ethico-religious topics.
In conclusion, we will quote the foreword to Archbishop Ayerky’s last book, just recently published:
All the swiftly increasing spiritual devastation in all aspects of life could not fail to prompt us to an especially forceful and fiery preaching of the Word of God, devoid of concern for oneself and any useless philosophizing, with the sole purpose of showing what a truly catastrophic situation we and the contemporary world have lived to see, and where we should seek salvation. “It would go hard with me indeed if I did not preach the gospel” (I Corinthians 9:16) – in this way, we pastors, and especially archpastors, are taught by the Word of God. And finally as a result of all the emotional stress I endured over all that is taking place nowadays, I was beset, (at least, that is what the doctors say) by several serious illnesses which almost took me away from this temporary life, because I could not come to terms with everything happening around me and approach it indifferently. And thus far I have not been able to fully regain my strength. But, I thank the All-Holy God for not denying me the strength and ability to preach by the spoken and written word that precept of faith and piety which all true pastors of Christ’s Church are called to preach constantly; in which is contained the principal duty of their service, the more so in these terrible times of rampant apostasy, when many are afraid to raise their voices and prefer to be silent. But “through silence God is betrayed” (St. Gregory the Theologian) and therefore, one is alarmed for these silent, frightened pastors, who prefer to be hirelings, rather than pastors. But, the Apostle Paul taught pastors through his faithful disciple Timothy: “Preach the word dwelling upon it constantly, welcome or unwelcome, bring home [the] wrongdoing, comfort the waverer, rebuke the sinner, with all the patience of a teacher” (II Timothy 4:2). It is not for me to judge how I fulfilled this. I will be judged as we all will be, by the impartial God. But, I can say one thing: I did everything honestly, according to my conscience and without regard for personalities.
Orthodox Life, St. Job of Pochaev Press, Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York, Vol. 26, No. 3, May-June, 1976, pp. 17-32