It is difficult to remember when I first saw Vladyka Laurus. He seems to have always been in our lives. He came to my grandparents’, usually for our patronal feast. I was three years old when I began to serve in my parish of St. John of Kronstadt in Utica (NY ‒ ed.), not far from Jordanville and the monastery. When we came to the monastery, I was afraid to serve in the altar there, because a small group of boys served in the parish and we all knew each other, while in the monastery, seminarians and adults served.
When Vladyka Laurus came to serve in Utica, I had no idea what a hierarchal service was. I saw how the retinue of the monastery clergy came with seminarians and choristers, and the service in our small church became so solemn!
My family often went to Holy Trinity Monastery, they took my brother and me with them. The monastery played a decisive role in my life.
When I was eight years old, I asked Vladyka Laurus’ blessing to spend the summer in the monastery – as a "summer boy." I would see Vladyka Laurus there almost every day: I saw him at the divine services, in the refectory, in the hallway of the brotherhood dormitory, or somewhere else. I remember once, when I met Vladyka many times in one day – I was under the impression that it was necessary to ask for a blessing every time – after the third or fourth time, he said: "Zhenya, stop coming up for a blessing! Once a day is enough!"
Vladyka was always busy with something, and as a boy it seemed to me that he was busy with something very important. But he always found time for us: he was interested in our lives, what we do, because the "summer boys" came not only to live in a monastery and go to services, but also to work at obediences and learn something. He often gave us ideas of where to work and whom to help.
Once, Vladyka asked me to fertilize seedlings. I went to the barn, collected the fertilizer in a jar and fulfilled my obedience. On another occasion, he sent me to the printing house to fold the journal Pravoslavnaya Rus. But most of all, I liked working with the recently reposed Archimandrite Job (Kotenko; +2021) on a farm together with the Stabinsky family. There, you could ride a tractor and do manual labor.
When I was a teenager, I helped my brother Alexander clean the monastery cathedral, and when I was in my first year at the seminary, Vladyka Laurus gave me the obedience to clean the brotherhood building, from the basement to the top floor. They said that we Kallaurs were not afraid to work, that we work well and know how to clean everything well. Although it was quite hard work.
I confess that as a child I was a little shy when I saw Vladyka. To me, he seemed like an "official figure." However, he himself always treated me with love, but sometimes with fatherly strictness. There were moments when I played with friends or forgot that I was in a monastery, and Vladyka Laurus put me in my place (but quickly forgave me). Once I was serving at a Vigil and accidentally stepped on Vladyka’s mantle during the censing. Vladyka even cried out, but when we returned to the altar and I asked for forgiveness, and he answered without offense: "It’s nothing."
When I graduated from high school, it was time to decide whom I was to become, going forward in life. On the one hand – I could enroll, like everyone else, in a regular university. In that case, perhaps I would have completely moved away from the Church because of the American secular lifestyle that other students are drawn to; years of study change people a lot. On the other hand, there was an opportunity to enroll in the seminary and find out: who am I? I was born in America, but I always considered myself Russian (my ancestors are from Belarus and Pskov). The seminary, although I had not studied there before, was a special and intimate place for me. I have been friends with seminarians since childhood; they came to visit us at home. And so, after thinking about it and weighing everything, I decided that seminary would be the best choice for me. I wrote a petition and sent it to Vladyka, and a week later I received a letter about my acceptance into the seminary. The years spent in Jordanville were the most golden and unforgettable for me. The more I studied at the seminary, the more questions I had about faith, worship, and life in general.
Vladyka started his work in the office every day after the early Liturgy and breakfast; after eating with the brethren he worked there from approximately 2 to 7 PM. I usually came to him with questions that arose at about 5 pm and always left his office with a sense of satisfaction and high spirits. When I began to court my future wife, I felt that Vladyka Laurus was happy for me – he knew both our families well.
I got married, had been a subdeacon for two years, and Vladyka kept asking me when I was going to become a deacon. But I thought that I was not worthy yet, although I had dreamed about it since childhood. And one day my confessor told me I had one week to write a petition to Vladyka for ordination to the diaconate. At the beginning of August 2005, I came with a petition to Vladyka in the hope that, after ordination, I would be able to perform my forty-day training in cool weather. I thought that Vladyka would give me time to prepare and appoint my ordination to take place in the winter, or maybe next year. Vladyka smiled and immediately issued a resolution approving the petition. He took out his calendar, looked, and said – August 14, the feast of the Procession of the Precious Wood of the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord – the first August feast of the Savior. He gave my wife Katya two weeks to prepare and arrange a reception, invite guests, and make other arrangements.
My wife and I lived near Holy Trinity Monastery for nearly seven years. Vladyka was present for every major event in our young married life, and influenced us in many ways. After I graduated seminary, we thought about moving, but every time Vladyka would say, "Stay, serve with me some more." And without his blessing we would not even leave for more than a couple of days. He would visit us on feast days, namesdays, and was present for the baptisms of our oldest children – Kyprian and Matrona, who were baptized in the monastery’s baptistry. When we were getting ready to baptize Kyprian, Vladyka told us ahead of time that he would absolutely come to the baptism, but late, and for us to start without him. We did not listen, and only started when he arrived… Vladyka in his humility asked us not to wait, and was displeased that we had decided to wait out of respect for him, in order to show him due deference.
I served as a deacon under Vladyka Laurus for almost three years. During this time, I quite often had to serve first, that is, as the senior deacon, although in fact I was the most junior by ordination. And for me to serve with Vladyka was the greatest honor.
I remember how Metropolitan Laurus’ cell attendant, Reader Nicholas Olhovsky (now Metropolitan of Eastern America & New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad), once came to me with an invitation to accompany Vladyka during his trip with an official ROCOR delegation to Russia, on his first official meeting with His Holiness, Patriarch Alexey II. This trip was the fulfillment of my childhood dream.
My family had collections of liturgical vinyl records from the times of the Soviet Union. Then my brother and I began to build our own collection of cassettes with recordings of divine services and church concerts from Russia. Through these recordings, we felt as if we were in Russia and were praying with our Russian people. So when I received the invitation, I felt in this the fulfillment of my dream.
That trip to Russia in 2004 was unforgettable. We all felt that we were following a holy man doing holy work. Vladyka took every step with prayer. He paid attention to everyone who approached him in Russia, blessed everyone. During official meetings, he always found something in common with his interlocutors, shared his rich life or church experience. No matter what corner of Russia or Ukraine we visited, Vladyka already knew about this place and its holy places, icons, and relics, and he always listened with great interest to stories about the history and present day of that area.
When the official meeting took place between Metropolitan Laurus and Patriarch Alexey II, in my opinion, it was a meeting of two Orthodox giants who saw and understood the need for spiritual unity, conciliar service, and communion from one Chalice. One of the most impressive moments was a visit to Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. The delegation entered the Lavra through the main gate, where we were met by a host of Lavra clergy and brethren, while my mother-in-law, who at that time was also in Russia, stood with the old women. She stood with tears in her eyes; she could not believe her eyes that she was a witness to the greeting of our First Hierarch in the Lavra. When we entered Dormition Cathedral, Archimandrite Matthew (Mormyl) immediately invited me to sing with the choir. Vladyka Laurus and the delegation stood in the brotherhood part of the church in front of the ambo. Vladyka was always very modest and did not want to draw attention to himself. But how amazingly beautiful it was when they began to sing the Trisagion, and Vladyka and our bishops were taken into the altar to pray together with the serving clergy! Of course, in every place during this trip, we were met with deep love, and people constantly repeating that they could not wait for the time when we could serve together and commune together.
In 2006, I started working at the chancery of the ROCOR Synod of Bishops in New York City and traveled there every week for three days (approximately four hours one way). It was hard, especially with small children. At the end of 2007, Vladyka blessed us to move to Sea Cliff, where we still live today.
In the beginning of 2008, we moved. Vladyka was happy for us and in parting gave each child a small icon. And in March 2008, Vladyka reposed. We believe that all this was providential and that before his death, Vladyka directed us on the path that was most favorable for our family. A month after our move, I had to return to the monastery for Vladyka’s funeral. Even now, we often remember him and believe that he does not leave us without his care.
Interviewed by Tatiana Veselkina