The Repose and Funeral Service of Metropolitan Philaret First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad
Vladyka Metropolitan Philaret had been ailing for quite some time, and, in August of 1985, had undergone minor surgery. After the operation, his physicians assured both Vladika Metropolitan and the Secretary of the Synod that his health would hold for another five years. However, their hopes were not justified, and about a month before Vladyka’s repose he began to decline. Mastering himself, he nonetheless attended the liturgy in church on a nearly daily basis, and on feastdays, even if he was not able to serve, he still vested in his mantle and preached the sermon, seated on the ambo.

Sunday, 10 November, was the last day he appeared in the Synodal cathedral. Vladyka was no longer able to serve by himself, but stood in his customary place near the right cliros. That day, His Grace, Bishop Gregory served. For those who were close to Vladyka and had known him for a long time, it was obvious that it took a tremendous effort for him to stand up to return the bow of the serving hierarch. That day, Vladyka received Communion in the altar, and afterwards, having vested in mantle and omophorion, delivered his last sermon.

At about 4:00 A.M., on Monday, Vladyka summoned his spiritual father, His Grace, Bishop Gregory, to hear his confession and to receive Communion. Vladyka Metropolitan was very apologetic for disturbing him at such an early hour, and Bishop Gregory noticed the intense suffering the Metropolitan was experiencing. Vladyka’s personal physician, when summoned, said that an operation was essential, but warned that it would be complicated and serious. Search then began for a vacant room in a hospital, and on Thursday, 8/21 November, Vladyka was to be admitted prior to this surgery. But the Lord judged otherwise. On the morning of the feast of the Archangel Michael, Vladyka reposed peacefully in his sleep.

Vladyka’s cell attendant, discovering that he was no longer breathing, hurriedly called His Grace, Bishop Gregory and then proceeded to call in the doctor and an ambulance. The paramedics’ attempts to revive Vladyka Metropolitan did not meet with success. While they were laboring over the lifeless body of the Metropolitan, Archimandrite Gelassy began the reading of the canon for the departure of the soul. Vladyka’s dining room, adjacent to his cell , rapidly filled with agitated parishioners, among whom the sad news had spread with the speed of lightning.

The departed First Hierarch had always had an aversion to the hospital environment, and to medical treatment in general. Submitting only when absolutely necessary, he reluctantly gave his permission for medical examination and a few tests. With his physical condition already weakened by loss of blood, it was doubtful that he would have survived such a serious operation. In sending him a peaceful end in his sleep, in his own bedroom, the Lord delivered him from the hands of the coroner’s office personnel. Vladyka was clothed and vested by the hands of his own clergy and placed by them in the coffin brought in for that purpose.

News of the repose of the Metropolitan spread with such rapidity that the receptionist and the chancery of the Synod could barely cope with the incessant calls. Nearly thirty priests and more than a hundred people attended the first pannykhida, held that evening at 7:00 P.M.

His Grace, Archbishop Vitaly, the Deputy President of the Synod, arrived from Canada for the pannykhida, which he concelebrated with their Graces, Bishop Gregory of Washington and Florida, and Bishop Hilarion of Manhattan. Bishop Gregory delivered the sermon at that pannykhida. He emphasized that the name of Metropolitan Philaret would go down in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad as that of a hierarch who presided over four canonizations of saints. Despite his mild character, Vladyka at times had to stand for his own opinion, as was noticeable in the question of several of the names of the New Martyrs of Russia. Vladyka knew well and loved the divine services, and was a great man of prayer, in which he serves as an example for us all.

Right up to the day of the burial, the pannykhidas, which were served morning and evening, invariably brought together many clergymen and layman, who hastened to bow down before the body of their First Hierarch.

The all-night vigil on Saturday was preceded by an amply-attended pannykhida served by Archbishops Vitaly of Canada, Anthony of San Francisco, Laurus of Syracuse and Holy Trinity Monastery, as well as Bishops Constantine of Richmond and Great Britain, Gregory of Washington and Florida, Alypy of Cleveland, and Hilarion of Manhattan.

The vigil began with the chanting of the introductory Psalm to a setting composed by the late First Hierarch. Almost twenty priests, eight protodeacons and deacons, and a multitude of acolytes, went forth at the polyeleos. There were a great many people in church as well.

The whole while, from the first hour after the repose of Metropolitan Philaret until his burial, the Holy Gospel was read over his coffin without interruption, except during the divine services and pannykhidas.

On the following day, Sunday, the liturgy began in the Synodal cathedral at 10:30 A.M. The choir, under the direction of Alexander B. Ledkovsky, made a special effort to perform all the compositions of the late Metropolitan with which they were acquainted, at the liturgy.

The liturgy was concelebrated by their Graces: Archbishops Vitaly of Montreal and Canada, Anthony of Western American and San Francisco, Laurus of Syracuse and Holy Trinity, Bishops Gregory of Washington and Florida, Alypy of Cleveland, and Hilarion of Manhattan. Archbishop Seraphim of Chicago, Detroit and the Midwest, and Bishop Constantine of Richmond and Great Britain, remained in the altar. Thirty priests, five protodeacons and four deacons, with a great many acolytes, also served.

During the liturgy, the flock, grieved by the repose of their archpastor, was unexpectedly gladdened by the arrival in the church of the myrrh-streaming Iveron Icon, which remained for the length of the funeral services. The liturgy concluded at 1:20 P.M., and the funeral began immediately afterwards. More priests, from nearby parishes, arrived, so that there were forty-six priests and nine deacons, plus acolytes of all ages, in the middle of the church. The cathedral was, as at Pascha, full to overflowing.

During the communion of the clergy, a beautiful sermon was delivered by Protopresbyter John Legky. A second sermon was given by Fr. Alexander Kiselev in the middle of the funeral service, and towards the end, His Eminence, Archbishop Vitaly delivered a brief sermon, also reading the spiritual testament to the flock which had been found among Metropolitan Philaret’s papers just after his repose. This statement was signed by Vladyka Metropolitan, probably three days before his repose, and reinserted into the typewriter. Photocopies of this page were distributed to all who attended the funeral.

Solemn and magnificent, without any significant omissions, the funeral produced a sense of compunction among those attending. Especially moving was the moment when the clergy lifted the coffin of the Metropolitan upon their shoulders and bore it to the ambo, and thence, during the chanting of the Eirmos: “A helper and protector . .” carried it around the inner walls of the church and set it back in the center of the church, allowing everyone an opportunity to bid farewell to the departed hierarch. This leave-taking ended at about 7:00 P.M., and the coffin was borne out into the courtyard of the Synod, to be placed in a hearse for transportation to Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, New York, where the interment was to take place.

The Burial took place in the monastery on the following day, Monday. At 9:30 the Liturgy began, after which a pannykhida was celebrated by all of the above-mentioned hierarchs, thirty priests, and seven deacons. The choir of the monastery chanted with compunction. After the liturgy, His Eminence Archbishop Anthony of San Francisco delivered a eulogy, and Archbishop Laurus spoke after the pannykhida. There also the church was filled with people who had traveled from New York, as well as parishioners of the Diocese of Syracuse. A large group of Greeks arrived from Canada to bid farewell to their departed First Hierarch.

At the conclusion of the pannykhida the clergy again shouldered the coffin and bore it around the church, and then to the Church of the Dormition in the cemetery, when a litia was served and the coffin placed in a niche in the crypt under the Church. A group of those who honor the late Metropolitan intend to erect a fitting chapel near the Holy Trinity Cathedral, where the remains of the First Hierarch will ultimately be interred.

The Synod of Bishops received a number of expressions of sympathy from the heads of several Orthodox Churches, as well as from prominent lay persons and organizations, several of whom gave donations to the Synod of Bishops ”in lieu of flowers.”

Vladyka Metropolitan Philaret achieved world-wide fame for his ”Sorrowful Epistles,” addressed to all the Orthodox bishops of the world, in which he warned them of the danger of ecumenism. With his repose an important page in the history of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad has been turned.

His repose was reported in The New York Times (twice), The [N.Y.] Daily News, Newsday, and in numerous newspapers throughout the nation which received the information through the Associated Press News Service. A short announcement was telecast over New York’s channel 7 television station (the ABC television network), and broadcast over the radio.