The Shepherd, February 2007

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TRIP TO AUSTRALIA, 1

AS REPORTED in previous issues, I was invited to speak at the 42nd Annual Russian Orthodox Youth Conference of the Australia - New Zealand Diocese of ROCA, held in Adelaide. I flew from Heathrow on 13th December and stayed a couple of days in Singapore as the guest of Archimandrite Daniel (Toyne) of the Holy Resurrection Greek Orthodox Church (OEc.Pat.) there. I was met at the airport by Fr Daniel and by Paul and Audrey Lee, the parents of Benedict who used to attend church here. The Lees kindly took us out for a meal, and then my plan to have a rest on the journey were scuppered by Fr Daniel, who kept me up talking to four in the morning! Next day, we visited a disused church which Fr Daniel hopes to get for his parish, who are out-growing their present house chapel. Then we visited the exceedingly beautiful Botanical Gardens before meeting up with Paul Lee again and eating, apparently in my honour, at the British Club. Mr Lee then drove us round town to see the city.

I flew on to Australia, arriving in Sydney late on Saturday night, where to my surprise the driver meeting me at the airport was Archbishop Hilarion himself. He made the perfect host. Despite his exalted rank, he prepared meals at the church house, made sure I had everything I needed, arranged everything for the whole trip, and, to my embarrassment, even did my laundry!

On the Sunday morning he showed me the church alongside his house, dedicated to All Saints of Russia, in which they treasure an icon of the Mother of God, Akhtyrskiya, which may even be the original one. There he introduced me to the priests serving there that day and preparing to start their Liturgy. However I served with the Archbishop and his clergy at the nearby Sts Peter and Paul Cathedral church. Vladyka Hilarion preached immediately after the Gospel on the Holy Fathers (whose Sunday it was) and asked me to preach in English on the Gospel itself at the end of the service. After breaking our fast at the church and returning home for a short rest, the Archbishop took me on a tour of the city, passing most of the notable tourist sites, and more interestingly many of the Orthodox churches in town. We went out as far as Bondi Beach, and visited the Rookwood Cemetery, where the Russian community has several large sections.

On Monday we flew to Brisbane. “Don’t take mitre or klobuk,” he said, “it is too hot to have your head covered there!” We were greeted by Fr Gabriel Macarov, whose family offered us hospitality during our stay. In the afternoon, Vladyka blessed a rotunda in the cemetery, dedicated to all those Orthodox Christians who have died in exile. After a meal at the Russian Club, we went to the St Nicolas Cathedral for the All-Night Vigil service for the parish dedication festival. This is the church in which Metropolitan Philaret and the late Bishop Constantine (there are evidences of his work there) served, and is the oldest Russian Orthodox Church in Australia. Four priests served with the Archbishop, Fr Gabriel, Protopriest Michael Klebansky, Fr Peter Fomin and myself. - Fr Peter seemed to have an inordinate interest in cricket for a Russian!!! Who cares about the Ashes? - After the parish trapeza, we were taken into an exceeding high mountain some distance from the city, so that we could see all the countryside round about - but we were not greatly tempted there, except by ginger beer and chips!

We returned to Sydney late at night, and the next morning, Archbishop Hilarion took me to the Kazan Icon Convent at Kentlyn, where Mother Maria, with whom we have been corresponding for years, is the newly installed Abbess. As we arrived it was drizzling - apparently arranged to make me feel at home, and certainly it was a relief after the heat of Brisbane. Vladyka returned to the city to work, but before the Liturgy, Matushka Maria took me to the Convent’s old church, where Hieromonk Joachim was preparing to serve a Liturgy in English. Fr Joachim visited Brookwood many years ago, when he was still with the Serbian Church. After the Liturgy in the main church, in which they have an icon of St Seraphim of Sarov which has miraculously renewed itself, the sisters invited us to join them at their meal, and matushka gave an album of pictures which she had specially prepared.

Abbess Anna and Mother Christina (known to Brookwoodites as Katie!) of the Presentation Skete in Bungarby were also praying at this Liturgy, and they then kidnapped me to take me to see their community, reputed to be some seven hour’s drive away. First we went to Fr Boris Ignatievsky’s house to raid his freezer, and were caught in the act by Fr Boris, so stayed and had coffee with him.

Mother Anna drove through torrential rains for about a third of the journey. She kindly took me on the scenic route, but for this part of the journey we only saw mist and rain. Suddenly the rains cleared, which was a mixed blessing: it allowed me to see the country but the area where Mother’s convent is situated has endured a seven-year drought! En route, we stopped at a little seaside town for refreshments, and then at a more remote coastal area to see the Sapphire Sea. By now we were running late, and Mother phoned her sister, Antonina Ganin, the renowned iconographer who has worked on many of the churches in Australia, and made a detour to visit her and her husband so that we could have yet another meal. We arrived at the Convent just before midnight - this seems to be the time when we arrived everywhere in Australia. As we drove up over the scrubland, our path was crossed by a rabbit (that happens here too), a wombat, and then a kangaroo - at last I was in Real Australia. Sydney and Brisbane are a bit like part of California that simply seemed to have ended up on the wrong side of the Pacific Ocean. 

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