On Saturday, November 17, the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern American & New York, led the celebrations in honor of the 40th anniversary of the founding of St. Nicholas Monastery in North Fort Myers, FL. The celebrations were made even more spiritually joyful by the arrival of the Kursk Root icon of the Mother of God – the Protectress of the Russian Diaspora – at the monastery, accompanied by diocesan vicar Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan. Honored guests at the celebrations included Bishop Saba of North America (Georgian Orthodox Church) and Bishop Victor of Artzis, vicar of the Diocese of Odessa.
The aforementioned hierarchs were co-served by: Archimandrite Alexander (Belya; monastery abbot), monastery clerics: Archimandrites Stephan (Hilchuk) and Siluan (Lembei), Archpriest Luka Novakovic, Archpriest Vitaly Kosovsky (rector of St. Elias Church in Kiev), Archpriest Alexander Belya (rector of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Brooklyn, NY), Archpriest Ovidiu Pocurar (rector of St. Polycarp Romanain Church in Naples, FL), Archpriest Nicholas Bargoot (rector of St. Panteleimon Mission in Lake Worth, FL), Archpriest Serge Prisakaru (cleric of St. Matrona of Moscow Cathedral in Miami, FL), Priests Constantine Desrosiers (cleric of St. Xenia Church in Methuen, MA), Michael Criscella (cleric of St. Gregory the Theologian Church in Tampa, FL), and Mykhailo Mykhailenko (cleric of St. Vladimir Church in Miami, FL), Archdeacon Serge Kosovsky (archdeacon to His Beatitude Onufry, Metropolitan of Kiev & all Ukraine), and Deacon Rostislav Zadorozhny (cleric of St. John the Baptist Cathedral in Brooklyn).
Many pilgrims gathered for the celebrations in the monastery and to venerate the wonderworking icon of the Mother of God. Senior parishioners collectively voiced that there had never been so many faithful gathered there.
At the end of the service, a procession with the Kursk Root Icon and pieces of the holy relics of the Great-Martyr George and the Holy Martyr Eutropius, which were recently transferred to the monastery.
At the conclusion of the procession, Metropolitan Hilarion spoke about the history of the monastery and its founder, Schema-Archimandrite John (Lewis).
His Eminence especially underlined the importance St. Nicholas Monastery – the sole Russian monastery in Florida – in the spiritual education and that strengthening of the faithful.
With the blessing of the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, His Beatitude, Metropolitan Onufry, Bishop Victor of Artzis presented Metropolitan Hilarion with the Order of Sts. Anthony & Theodosius of the Kiev Caves – the founders of monasticism in Rus’ – First Order. Bishop Victor thanked the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad for his work for the glory of the Holy Church and, in particular, to heal the schism within the Orthodox Church. He said, in part: "Today this is important and needful for us, because the situation in Ukraine is at such a point that only prayer can save the Church."
Metropolitan Hilarion thanked Bishop Victor for his attentiveness toward the Russian Church Abroad and wished the Primate of the UOC strength and many years. With the blessing of Metropolitan Onufry, awards were also bestowed on Archimandrite Alexander (Belya) – Order of Venerable Nestor the Chronicler and on Ivan Belya – the Order of St. Peter Mogila.
Bishop Saba presented Metropolitan Hilarion an icon of Venerable Hilarion the Georgian.
For the anniversary of the monastery’s founding, Bishop Victor presented a piece of the vesture of the Lord Jesus Christ and the relics of Venerable Gabriel of Mt. Athos. His Grace once again thanked Metropolitan Hilarion for a clear stance in relation to the threat hanging over the Ukrainian Church, and asked to pray for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and its Primate, "that we ‘til the last breath remain faithful to the Orthodox Church, thus showing allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ."
Archimandrite Alexander also thanked Bishop Victor for the priceless gift and briefly spoke about contemporary events at the monastery and its current inhabitants, also thanking Metropolitan Onufry for his blessing to allow brethren to reside at the monastery on American soil.
For their labors for the good of the Church and restoring the monastery, the following were awarded orders and medals: Bishop Nicholas of Manhattan, Bishop Victor of Artzis, Bishop Saba of North American, Archimandrite Alexander (Belya), Archpriest Vitaly Kosovsky, Archdeacon Serge Kosovsky, Archimandrites Stefan and Siluan, Archpriest Luka Novakovic, Mother Andrea, Ivan Belya.
Metropolitan Hilarion and Fr. Alexander expressed their heartfelt thanks to Mother Andrea, a spiritual daughter of Schema-Archimandrite John, who after the death of Fr. John, took upon herself the care of the monastery and thanks to whom the monastery withstood difficult years.
A group photograph of the clergy and the faithful was then taken, after which all were invited to a festal meal.
A detailed story about St. Nicholas Monastery will be published on the diocesan website in the near future.
Fort Myers, FL: Metropolitan Hilarion leads 40th Anniversary Celebrations in St. Nicholas Monastery - 11/17/18
Photos: P. Lukianov - Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese