In October 2012, the choir and several clergy of Moscow
Sretensky Monastery, at the invitation of Metropolitan
Hilarion (Kapral), travelled to parishes of the Russian
Orthodox Church Abroad in North America. The trip was
dedicated to the five-year anniversary of the
reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church. We asked Fr.
Tikhon to share some of his impressions from these
“After the reunification of the Russian
Church, everything has come into place”
—Fr. Tikhon, you recently returned from your trip
to America with the Sretensky Monastery Choir. Five years
ago, soon after the Act of Canonical Unity was signed, you
travelled around the world with the choir, spending time
in dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of
Russia all over the globe. What has changed since
—During the past five years, our brotherly communion
and concelebrating of the divine services has become
something very natural and habitual. That is what amazes
me the most.
in Russia I have noticed that clergy and laity of
ROCOR readily come to us like coming home, as if they
were priests or pilgrims from Omsk or Tula. And when
we were in America, it was hard to remember that
there had been many long years when we did not
receive Communion from the same chalice. Everything
has come into place—at times quite
unexpectedly. This was eloquently expressed by, for
example, the portraits of A. I. Denikin, Metropolitan
Anastasia (Gribanovsky), and Patriarch Kirill, all
placed right next to each other on the walls of
God’s will has been fulfilled. But you notice
when you look at the photographs of the Church
services taken during the trip is that there is a
marked difference between the ROCOR parishes and
those of the OCA (Orthodox Church in America). In the
former you see life bubbling over, but in the latter,
a kind of frozenness.
Orthodox Church in America right now is not
experiencing its best times, and we pray for our
brothers with our whole hearts and hope that they can
quickly get through this crisis. The word
“crisis” here is no exaggeration. That is
how they themselves recognize their current
“Our main goal was to participate in the
—Did people meet the choir everywhere like old
friends, or did America discover it all over again?
—Our main goal was to participate in the Divine
Services in the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate, the
Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, and the
Orthodox Church in America. Alongside this, the choir gave
performances in those cities where we visited and served.
This performance tour was organized by a large American
for the services our choir sang, they were the main
church events in those places we visited. The choir
was received with sincere love and gratitude, like a
generous spiritual gift from Russia.
I am very pleased with our choir—they spent that
month in true self-denial. The schedule was extremely
difficult; over the course of twenty days we travelled to
nine different cities, and during the entire time they had
only one break. The flights were long—not only those
from Russia to America and back, but also the American
domestic flights. After all, it is a vast country, and it
takes five hours to fly from coast to coast.
Often we would arrive at the airport and then have to rush
through traffic to the evening services, and only
afterwards settle into the hotel. In the morning would go
to the Liturgy, in the afternoon would be a recital, and
in the evening, a concert. After the concert, late in the
evening, again we would drive through traffic to the
airport, again go through all the checkpoints, wait for
the flight, arrive in the next city, go through baggage
claim, more traffic, the hotel, a short night’s
sleep, then Liturgy in the morning…
—So perhaps the Washington Post critic was
right when she compared you to commandos?
—You could say that. None of our guys ever once
complained, although the conditions were rigorous.
Nowadays people throw the word podvig (ascetic
labors or struggles) around; of course, I would refrain
from using such a lofty concept to describe our choir, but
the trial was truly serious—they had to give it 100
percent. Well, in fact that is really as it should be.
Sretensky Monastery Choir, concert at the Library of Congress.
all, they couldn’t lose face before the secular
—Of course, our guys were trying very hard first and
foremost to please the people at church services. No
matter how tired they were, and at times they were barely
alive, they were sometimes asked to sing even
more—at dinner, for example, and they never turned
these requests down. They understood that this was a
holiday for those gathered.
—As for the secular audience—the standard was
set very high from the start. After all, the tour began
not just anywhere, but in the hall of Library of Congress
of the United States, to a very elite public. This concert
was only of sacred hymns, from ancient chants to modern
choir sang secular music in the two most famous
concert halls in the U.S.—Washington,
D.C’s Kennedy Center, and Carnegie Hall in New
York. Then they went on to other cities. But despite
their success at the secular concerts and the
flattering articles in some of America’s
foremost newspapers, the main thing for us was the
services in the American Orthodox churches—some
large, others tiny.
—I read on the internet that concert halls were
sold out, and leading newspapers in America published
ecstatic articles about the choir. The New York
Times talked about its “amazing
renditions”, and the music critic for the
Washington Post declared outright that the choir
was “without a doubt one of the best in the
—Yes, we were warmly received. The agents who worked
for the company that organized the tour asked us later,
“Tell us, where do you dream of performing?”
But we only answered, “We are dreaming of getting a
good night’s sleep!” It was a very intense
of the tight schedule, you had to return to Moscow
for a few days after beginning the tour.
—Yes, that did happen…
—Spending ten hours in the airplane, taking care
of business in Moscow, and then flying back over the
ocean… How do you manage to endure such a
—I am used to it. I sleep very well in airplanes.
The translator of Everyday Saints was
baptized in Sretensky Monastery
—In America you presented the English translation
of your book, Everyday
Saints, and met with readers. It is interesting
that the original,Несвятыесвятые, received several different titles in its
translations into other languages: the literal translation
of the Russian title would be “Unsaintly
Saints”, but the Greek title became Almost
άγιοι”), and the
English title became Everyday Saints. How was the
book received in America?
—It seems to me that they have received it warmly,
and are interested.
spoke about this with a specialist at the Russian
collection of the Library of Congress, Harold
Liech. Although he belongs to the Episcopalian
Church, he said that the book is very close to
—Mr. Liech and his director, Dr. James Billington,
organized a presentation of the English edition in the
Library of Congress. It is important that Americans who
are not Orthodox have received with such interest a book
about the Russian Church.
—On the English edition of the website,
Pravoslavie.ru, there have been a number of
responses to the book. One person wrote just recently that
after reading the story of Mother Frosya, who managed to
keep the fasts even in prison, he felt ashamed, and
resolved to always keep the Wednesday and Friday
—This kind of relationship to the book is rewarding
to me, an author and a priest.
the time you returned home, Everyday Saints
had been sold for over a month in America and
elsewhere; information about it had appeared in the
New York Times, the Washington Post,
and positive responses had come not only from
Orthodox readers, but also from Catholics and
Protestants. Into what other languages is the book
—I just recently learned that they are preparing a
second print run for the English version. The book has
already appeared in Greek and Serbian, and currently work
is being done on Spanish, Romanian, Bulgarian, Swedish,
French, Chinese, and Japanese editions. It is even being
translated into Esperanto.
—I heard that work on the translation of the book
had an effect on the translator himself. Tell us a little
about this person.
Julian Lowenfeld. Photo: Chris Maliuzhinsky/MOMENT
name is Julian Lowenfeld. Many consider his
translations of Pushkin, Tiuchev, and Lermontov, to be
the best there is today. For me it was very important
that such a translator decided to be the one to
introduce the English speaking public to Everyday
Julian was raised in a Catholic family but considered
himself an agnostic. It took him about a half a year to
translate the book, and when the final editing work was
being done in Moscow, he came here to our monastery and
unexpectedly announced his firm decision to become
Orthodox. Julian wanted to be baptized precisely here, in
Moscow. He was told, “You can come and be baptized
any time.” Then, without knowing about the ancient
Christian tradition of baptizing catechumens on Great
Saturday, he arrived in Moscow no earlier or later than
Great Friday, and with no other intention than to receive
holy Baptism. So, on Great Saturday, we performed the
Baptism according to all the rules and canons of the
Church. His Godmother was Nun Cornelia, also an American,
and one of the editors of the English translation. Of
course, I cannot but be overjoyed that the book he
translated at least in part influenced him to make that
—The book seems to have a life of its own. For
the editors of the website, Pravoslavie.ru who
moderate the readers’ comments sent to the
address,http://www.ot-stories.ru/comments.htm, this is obvious. And there are incomparably more
responses to the book throughout the internet.
—For me this is, I have to admit, the highest
reward. I watch the life of the book from a distance; and
I have to say, with extraordinary interest.
“America is not the same
—You have said that after becoming acquainted
with the American public you were amazed at the piety of
many Americans. Russia generally has a negative image of
America because all the information we receive about that
country comes mainly either through news dispatches
showing their government’s unseemly role in Syria,
Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., or from the movies in which
Americans portray themselves as Rambos and Terminators.
What do you think: is there really such a perceptible
contrast between our concept and the true America,
especially “one-story” America?
has been said many times that New York is not
America. It’s not for me to judge, but that is
what Americans themselves confirm. And truly, New
York is very different from the rest of the U.S.,
even at the superficial glance of a tourist. But what
is amazing (and this immediately overthrew some of my
stereotypes): in New York on Sundays the churches are
full, and that’s to say nothing of the
provincial areas. According to the Gallup polls, 43.1
percent of all adult Americans (these statistics do
not include children) attend church every week. That
is a lot. Compare that to us at three percent.
Amish people working.
for the American countryside… I have had the
opportunity to be in America several times, and I have
not ceased to be amazed at their backbone—I
cannot say, “piety”, because I do not know
their spiritual life, but precisely their religious
In 1996, Alexander Nikolaevich Krutov, his family, and I
flew to Colorado Springs. This was our first trip to
America—we had gone there to receive a copy of the
Shroud of Turin, which the famous Shroud researcher John
Jackson had expressed a readiness to present to our
A rodeo in Reno, NV.
the very beginning, to be honest, I was pleasantly
surprised that there in Colorado Springs was a whole
group of serious scholars of many different disciplines
(both Catholics and Protestants) who study the Shroud
of Turin. But that is another subject. On that trip,
when we had a free day, they took us to a rodeo.
The rodeo championship in Colorado Springs. Photo: Anthony Suffle.
was an ordinary rodeo show, with about three thousand
people attending. When the show was over, there were
long tables set for all the guests of this holiday. But
before anyone starting eating, the cowboy who headed
this ceremony rose and called all to prayer. Then
everyone there—all without exception
(!)—rose, and there were, I remind you, three
thousand people. No one snickered, no one disdained
this call, no one wrinkled their noses or smirked
ironically. No, they all rose and prayed. I myself
looked all around and saw with complete astonishment
that people were praying sincerely. They all recited
the Lord’s Prayer; Protestants folded their
hands, Catholics crossed themselves, and we Orthodox
also crossed ourselves… We prayed and only then
began to eat. That is how I, by the way, participated
in ecumenical prayer…
Having eaten a little, I looked around, thinking,
“Where are the police?” There are very many
people here, and on the tables there was not just food,
but also a certain amount of alcoholic beverages. Knowing
how this usually ends at analogous youthful gatherings in
Russia, I estimated that in an hour or two police
intervention would be unavoidable. But there were no
police. After a while it dawned on me that they would not
be needed. That is because no one behaved aggressively, or
brashly, or mischieviously.
Photo: Reggie Barret.
head cowboy announced some songs. Someone came up and
played the banjo, someone sang, or read poetry. The
entire three thousand-strong audience received it all
with the warmest welcome. The people were basically
unfamiliar with each other. Many, as I found out,
simply travelled around America and had just happened
in on this holiday.
It was all a very homey atmosphere. The head cowboy, for
example, said, “We have with us today John and Mary.
They are on their honeymoon trip. Let’s give them a
warm welcome! Let’s be glad for them, that they are
so beautiful and young, have had their wedding and are now
travelling around our country. John and Mary, come on
up!” This young couple comes forward and everyone
shouts, “John and Mary, hello! All the best to
you!” This was touching, what can I say… This
is what we have lost—such goodwill towards each
other!... Then they wished someone else a happy birthday,
congratulated another on the birth of a grandson…
And apparently our guides had told them about me and the
Krutovs, because we suddenly heard, “Some Russians
have come to our holiday. We have never had Russians here
before. Welcome!” We did not go to the stage, but we
stood up and greeted everyone. People all around us also
rose from their tables and shouted greeting to us. The
master of ceremonies said again, “We are very glad
to have you here! It’s great that you have come.
Welcome to America!”
A crowd of people immediately gathered around us…
They were shaking our hands and smiling. When they had sat
down again, the man sitting next to us began a
conversation with us. He was thin, modest, with work-worn
hands. He asked me, “Are you a priest?”
“Yes,” I answered. “We are also
Christians. We’re very glad to have made the
acquaintance of a priest.” He said that he and his
wife are Protestants. I inquired whether he goes to
church. He answered in the affirmative. As it turns out,
he was an oil man from Texas. Then it turns out that he
was not just an oil man, but the owner of one of the
largest oil companies in the U.S. Now he and his wife were
travelling around America—something they do every
year. They had never been out of the country. They had
five children. He also said that he had only once skipped
Sunday services, when he was in the hospital. So, America
is not the same everywhere you go.
—Especially since there are, according to
statistics, already five million Orthodox Christians
there. Tell us, how does this piety of ordinary Americans
jibe with the imperialistic politics of their country?
Many of our readers ask that question.
—I would least of all like to talk about politics.
But since you have already asked the question, I will
answer as best I can; but don’t judge me for it.
The international politics of any empire—and the
U.S.A. is undoubtedly an empire—are the unbending
defense of its own interests, often at the cost of other
countries. I will not be “discovering America”
if I say that the strategic aims of the external politics
of the “Good Empire” are not complicated, but
perfectly clear: to try to control the entire world. No
more, no less. This task has been set by that very elite,
which, you might say, controls the country. Thinking
Americans understand this quite well and do not hide the
fact from either themselves or others.
But let’s end the discussion of this boring topic
for today. In fact, it’s better if we return to that
subject less often.