His Eminence, Metropolitan Vitaly, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, was born in Petrograd on March 18, 1910, and bore the name Rostislav Petrovich Ustinov in secular life. His father, Peter Konstantinovich Ustinov, was a naval officer of the Black Sea Fleet; his mother, Lydia Andreyevna Stopchansky, was the daughter of a general of the National Guard, who served in the Caucasus Mountains all his life.
In 1920, the young Rostislav enrolled in the military academy founded by General Wrangel in the city of Feodosia. In 1923, Lydia Ustinova called her son to Constantinople to accompany her to France. In the autumn of the same year, Rostislav Ustinov enrolled in the College of St. Louis, King of France, in the city of Le Mans. On the completion of his studies there, the young Ustinov joined his mother in Cannes, in the south of France. In 1934, he was called upon to fulfill his military obligations, which he did by joining the 9th Cavalry Regiment, but the young Ustinov had no wish to remain in the world – his only desire was to withdraw to a monastery.
In 1936, he left France and entered the Monastery of St. Job of Pochaev in the Carpathian Mountains of Czechoslovakia. In 1938, the monastery’s abbot, Archimandrite Seraphim Ivanov, later Archbishop of Chicago, Detroit and the Midwest, tonsured the novice Rostislav rassophore-monk, giving him the new name Vitaly, so that, as explained, the monastery would not be without a Vitaly. During the Great Fast in 1939, the rassophore Vitaly was tonsured into the little schema. That same year on 4/17 July, the anniversary of the slaying of the imperial Family, His Grace Bishop Vladimir of Mukachevo and Pryashev, a hierarch of the Church of Serbia, ordained him to the diaconate, and in 1940, His Eminence Metropolitan Seraphim (Lade) of Berlin and Germany ordained him to the priesthood in the city of Bratislava. Archimandrite Seraphim entrusted to the young Hieromonk Vitaly the care of two villages on the border between Czechoslovakia and Poland.
The rout of the German army forced all the brethren to abandon their monastery to escape the advancing Soviet forces. Hieromonk Vitaly was then confronted with the daunting task of ministering to the spiritual needs of the Orthodox in Berlin and its outlying area, where it was his responsibility to visit daily a camp of Russians who had been transported to Germany for forced labor: to preach, serve, confess and give Communion to the hundreds dying of starvation, and tuberculosis and other diseases. But soon he was again compelled to flee the Red Army, which was surrounding Berlin on every side. With Archimandrite Nathanael (L’vov), the dean of the Berlin cathedral, Hieromonk Vitaly departed from Berlin. Both priests established themselves in the city of Hamburg.
A wide field of activity presented itself to the two young and energetic missionaries among the so-called Displaced Persons (D.P.’s), who required assistance to evade compulsory repatriation and all of Stalin’s horrors attendant upon it. Their fluency in the English language proved invaluable in helping them rescue thousands of their compatriots.
The Synod of Bishops consecrated Archimandrite Nathanael Bishop of Brussels and sent him to Paris to head the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad’s Diocese of Western Europe, while Abbot Vitaly (he had been elevated to that rank in 1944) remained in Hamburg to see to the needs of the refugees in the camps of northern Germany. Abbot Vitaly, who was raised to the rank of archimandrite in 1946, instituted a cycle of daily divine services in the barracks church in the Fischbek Camp, set up a printing operation, gathered around him a little monastic brotherhood (consisting of the late Archbishop Paul of Sydney, Australia and New Zealand and Archimandrite Theodore), printed and distributed the Great Anthology of Services (the Veliky Sbornik) and prayerbooks to all the churches of the camps of eastern Germany, and published a monthly magazine, Pochaev Leaflets, under the title Orthodox Digest. Many in the Fischbek Camp finished a comprehensive course for precentors (psalomshchiki) which he organized, and twelve young men were systematically taught a full curriculum of courses in theology on a seminary level, in the course of a year
As the refugees were assigned to various countries throughout the free world, in 1947 the Synod appointed Archimandrite Vitaly to head the Church’s Diocese of Great Britain. Between 1947 and 1951, Archimandrite Vitaly was dean of the cathedral in London, traveled tirelessly throughout England, and organized parishes in Manchester, Preston and Bradford. In 1951, on the feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, Archimandrite Vitaly was consecrated Bishop of Montevideo and assigned as vicar to Archbishop Theodosius (Samoilovich) of Sao Paulo and Brazil. He resided in Villa Alpina, a suburb of Sao Paulo. There he again established a printing works, and his little monastic brotherhood was also augmented by the arrival of two more monastic aspirants. Villa Alpina developed into a valuable center with the organization of a small orphanage for boys, at which the fundamentals of the Orthodox Faith and the rudiments of the Russian language were taught, and where a daily cycle of the divine services was served. Vladyka Vitaly and his hieromonks visited Orthodox people in the most remote outposts of Brazil, and by their labors two parishes were formed – one in Goiania, deep within the Brazilian interior, and another in Pedreira, a suburb of Sao Paulo.
In 1954, by decree of the Synod of Bishops, Bishop Vitaly was transferred to Canada with his entire brotherhood, where he became ruling bishop of the Diocese of Western Canada, the cathedral of which was in Edmonton, Alberta. There, seventy-five miles outside the city, His Grace founded the Skete of the Holy Dormition, near the Granada junction, where Abbot Seraphim, one of his brotherhood, lived, and from which he ministered to all of northern Alberta. In 1957, the Synod of Bishops transferred Vladyka Vitaly to Montreal and gave him the title “Archbishop of Montreal and Canada.” Archbishop Vitaly left one of his brethren, Archimandrite Gregory, behind in Edmonton as dean of the Cathedral of St. Vladimir.
Soon after his arrival in Montreal, Archbishop Vitaly acquired land in rural Mansonville, Quebec, and began the establishment of a skete. The construction was undertaken by the monks of the brotherhood and by volunteers from among the parishioners. The result of their labors is the Skete of the Holy Transfiguration, which boasts a magnificent iconostasis, its ecclesiastical artwork executed by the foremost iconographers of the diaspora.
In 1965, Archbishop Vitaly founded a new parish in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, dedicated to the Protection of the Most Holy Theotokos.
Throughout his tenure in Canada, Archbishop Vitaly’s print shop, located at his residence, has worked continually to produce liturgical books, brochures, serious volumes of theological literature, and the periodical Orthodox Digest, the first issue of which was published in 1951, when the brotherhood was still in Brazil.
Vladyka Vitaly has, throughout his ministry, devoted much energy and care to the Orthodox youth, striving by every means available to him to confirm them in the Holy Faith. This has been particularly evident in his sponsorship of several youth conferences in Canada and his participation in many such gatherings in the United States. His concern for teaching the faith led him to suggest to the Council of Bishops that small educational institutions be established at each diocesan center, under the oversight of the local hierarchs.
In 1967, Archbishop Vitaly delivered a report to the Council of Bishops on the history and nature of the heresy of ecumenism. His forthright stand against this all-pervading heresy of our time has to no small degree influenced the ecclesiastical policy of our church.
The Election Of Archbishop Vitaly to First Hierarch
The death of Metropolitan Philaret caused an extraordinary necessity upon the Sobor of Bishops: not only did they face an upcoming election of a new First Hierarch, but also had to render answers to spiritual administrative questions immersed in connection with the death of Metropolitan Philaret. The first session of the Sobor of Bishops was January 7/20, 1986, the feast day commemorating St. John the Baptist. On the following, as our Church commemorated the memory of St. Philip, Metropolitan of Moscow and all of Russia, the Sobor elected to the post of First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, His Eminence, Vitaly, Archbishop of Montreal and Canada.
The Council of Bishops’ election of the new First Hierarch, Archbishop Vitaly, lifted the spirit of the orphaned laity, whom were many, witnessing first hand the election of Vladyka Vitaly, at the New York City Cathedral of the Sign of the Holy Mother of God.
On Saturday, January 12/25, 1986, at the onset to Vespers, the Church began to fill with worshippers. Every member of the Council of Bishops was present. Priests and Deacons from near by parishes were in attendance, as well as laity, both near and from a far. In the middle of the Church stood two analoys, surrounded by candle stands filled with burning candles. On one analoy was placed the Icon of the Theotokos Kursk and the other, the Oil-Streaming Theotokos of Montreal.
At the conclusion of the solemnized all-night Vigil service, the commencement of the inthronization of the newly elected Metropolitan was performed. Vladyka Vitaly was presented and bestowed with a blue mantiya and a white monk’s klobuk was placed upon his head, the traditional distinguishing colors of a Metropolitan in the Russian Church. After the revolution, this distinction was adopted in other Churches (excluding the Greeks). The blue mantiya, lain upon the frame of the First Hierarch, unlike the usual violet Bishops mantiya, identifies him as Primate of the Church. The wide ribbons, sewn from the shoulders and extending to the floor, symbolize the Holy Teachings of the Church, flowing, like a water, providing nourishment to the land and all those dwelling within her.
All those present in the Church, even to the latest of hours, received a Blessing from Metropolitan Vitaly.
On the next day, Metropolitan Vitaly, with members of Bishops, Archimandrites, Protopresbyters, Igumens, Proto-Priests, Priests, with Proto-Deacons, Deacons, Sub-Deacons and altar boys, served his first Liturgy, as First Hierarch.
At the conclusion of the solemnized Liturgy, all of the clergy members, 90 in all, proceeded to the middle of the Church, and having before them the two Icons of the Theotokos, a moleben was served honoring the Mother of God and to all of the newly Enlightened Martyrs and Confessors of the Russian Orthodox Church.
At the conclusion of the moleben, Vladyka Anthony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, presented Metropolitan Vitaly with a staff and announced “Axios”. Then, Archbishop Anthony of Geneva, greeted the newly elected Metropolitan with warm wishes: “Your Eminence, our dear Holiness, given from God, destined by fate and with prayers to our Holy Theotokos elected. My duty is to greet you in the name of our Episcopate. You yourself, Vladyka, must have known, that after the repose of Metropolitan Philaret, the Bishops were reborn, feeling new powers and confidence in its actions, and we have all rallied around you. From the beginning, you have deserved our full trust, not only our trust, but also confidentiality, love and prayers. Henceforth, we will support you on your path of service to our Church. Christ, our Savior, requested from His Heavenly Father: “let all be united!” – and this unity is our strength, the Church Abroad, which nobody and nothing can overpower. Many times, enemies have endeavored to divide us, in order to annihilate us, but our unity did not weaken but has strengthened with your election. Our beloved First Hierarch! Our Lord has placed you on the altar of the Apostles, in difficult responsible times in the life of our Church. To you is presented the prospect in two years, the jubilee of our homelands 1000 year Baptismal celebration. 1000 years we have lived as Christians, who must now be held accountable not merely by words, but in deeds as well. We must celebrate this jubilee here, with the same effect as if this jubilee was to be celebrated in our homeland. They will forbid this celebration or allow its reduced form under the intimidations of the soviet press. Our enslaved brothers will hear the True voice of the Russian Church, your voice Vladyka, a God bearing voice. Remember Vladyka, that you are among the alone, the peculiar, in these deceitful times of our Church, freely elected, freely en-rooted, freely taken into account, freely acting, freely empowering the word of Christ’s Truth. May God help you to carry your heavy Saintly Cross, Saintly not only in the Abroad, but in all the Russian Church, the Cross of the Russian people, her martyrs, confessors, and be to all a beacon of hope and joy! May you enlighten man, let him witness your good deeds and exalt our Father, whom is in the Heavens!”
Vladyka Metropolit Vitaly, with great inspiration, sermonized on the strength of heart filled prayer: “If prayer does not come from the heart, then you can not call it a prayer, these are only words; from this formalized – type of prayer, man does not gain any spiritual profit”.
For information on a video produced by our parish featuring two lectures in English given by Vladika Vitaly in Edmonton: http://www.monasterypress.com/metvideo.html