Archbishop Victorin Ursache: A Saint among Us (II)

Archimandrite Victorin kneeled in front of the altar from Golgotha, Jerusalem, 1950
On the back: “To my brother Calistru on his name day, September 27, 1952. Archimandrite Victorin. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher from Jerusalem"

(Continued from November 2020)

During the Israeli-Arab War, Archimandrite Victorin remained in Old Jerusalem (Jordan), in a cell next to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The Romanian settlement in Jerusalem went to the Jewish side, so Father Victorin was unable to administer it any longer, which meant the absence of any stable material income. Under these conditions, it seems he traveled through various parts in the East, reaching the Patriarchate of Antioch (in Damascus), which supported him financially because he was without any means of subsistence. He was also ill for some time and being hospitalized in Beirut, he received material help from the Patriarchate of Antioch. 

The situation of the Romanian monks in the Holy Land, at the time when Archimandrite Victorin was the representative of the Romanian Orthodox Mission in Jerusalem, was not at all easy. To the simple fact of living among foreigners, unsupported by anyone from Romania, was added the difficult situation after the Second World War fraught with permanent misunderstandings and fights between the Jews and Arabs. But there were also many comforts, especially of a spiritual nature. Among them was the fact that the monks could confess to the renowned Elder, of Aromanian origin, Archimandrite Sabbas (+ January 1, 1958) of Saint Sabbas’ Monastery, who loved Romanians.

Archimandrite Sabbas, the confessor of Saint John Jacob and of Archimandrite Victorin

Above all, the Holy Places of Jerusalem and Jordan Valley remained for Archimandrite Victorin a landmark of monastic life, a landmark to which he referred and for which he aspired constantly in the period before his election as bishop: “And if all the facilities necessary for life cannot be found there [in the Holy Land], the days are still full of the most comforting peace of mind that flows into the soul solely by looking at the Places Sanctified by the Sufferings of our Savior Jesus Christ for our salvation,” he wrote to Metropolitan Visarion in a letter dated April 5, 1963.

In 1956 he was called by Bishop Andrei Moldovan to the Romanian Orthodox Missionary Episcopate in the USA. He arrived in the New World on August 8, in New York. The first impressions were overwhelming: “I am in a world so foreign that I feel like taking the first ship to Europe to return as soon as possible to the tranquility of our Jordan, whose value for the life I have chosen I can feel even more from here.”

There began a long series of worries, doubts, and regrets about the path he set on, which would last almost ten years. Although his return to Jerusalem remained a constant ideal throughout the following years, the political unrest there and the material difficulties of the Romanian monks and nuns in the Holy Land made him try, at least temporarily, to make a living on the American continent, so that he could help them and Metropolitan Visarion. It was a first period of interesting advice and even blackmailing, time which gave him the opportunity to get in touch with the realities of the Romanian Orthodoxy in America and to form a first impression: “The time since I came seems to me not lost because it gave me the opportunity to see things and to reach completely different beliefs from those ‘in the fight’ to promote their personal interests. The groups here, far from thinking of any agreement, ‘fight’ only to strengthen their positions and recruit new members, each with the hope that theirs will be the ‘victory.’ And our Romanians lose their trust in the people of the Church and their faith in God. (I put in quotation marks the words most often used in their conversations),” he wrote in a letter from September 29, 1956.

He adopted a position of neutrality, a position suggested and supported by both Metropolitan Visarion and his “Greek friends”: “I have no connection with the church administrations of the Romanians, with any of the factions. I do not want to hinder anyone and any of their ‘dioceses’ in any way. That is why I live here in isolation from everyone as if I were alone in the valley of the Jordan River.” 

From the end of 1957, for the next 5–6 years, it seems that he was no longer welcome in the Romanian parishes: “And when I think that there are so many Romanians and so many Romanian churches and some without priests, and I am not allowed to serve at any Romanian church, at least for Pascha, for so many years, since I have been in these places” (April 24, 1962). 

This, together with the fact that the “summer climate of Detroit,” was “impossible” to endure led him to visit St. Tikhon’s Orthodox Monastery in South Canaan, Pennsylvania, in May 1958, which was under the jurisdiction of Metropolitan Leonty Turkevich of the North American Diocese of the Church in Russia. On June 9, he wrote to Metropolitan Visarion that he had changed his address: “Maybe only during the summer, maybe for longer.” 

The last issue of Holy Places. On the cover, Saint John Jacob at the Romanian Church from Jordan River

Beginning with November 1958 he began to publish, at the monastery’s printing house, the quarterly brochure Holy Places for the spiritual profit of the Romanians on the North American continent. A constant contributor was St. John Jacob, as Holy Places was the “religious magazine of the Romanian Orthodox Church’s Mission in Jerusalem.” He maintained a constant correspondence with Saint John all those years.

He managed to publish Holy Places until the end of 1960 when, due to debt and various diculties, he was forced to give up, but with “a clear conscience that I answered the call and I tried to do everything as urged by the duty of brotherly love in Christ and for the Romanians in America.” We believe that the cessation of the publication, in addition to the reasons mentioned above, was also caused by the death of St. John on August 5, 1960.

In fact, what appears to be the last issue of the magazine, No. 11, 1960, was dedicated to St. John. In the moving obituary, Archimandrite Victorin wrote:

On August 5, 1960, the only Romanian Hieromonk who was still at the Holy Places in Jordan was called to eternity. Hieroschemamonk John Jacob […] His premature departure from the midst of the Romanian Monks in the Holy Land, left in its wake deep regrets and pained souls shorn of spiritual comfort: “Father John has left us. We are without adviser!”

His desire to draw near to his “Most Sweet Jesus,” to whom he devoted his whole life, was fulfilled. He prepared his grave from life, in the cave where he lived. A part of his writings was being printed as his soul traveled to the places of eternal happiness.

On the back:“Jerusalem, October 29/November 11, 1951. On the anniversary of a thousand and five hundred years from the foundation of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The procession from the Monastery of Galilee Cathedral on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Photo sent to my parents: Dumitru and Natalia Ursachi from Mănăstioara. Archimandrite Victorin”

The remembrance of our union in prayer and spiritual life in the midst of the Romanian monks of the Holy Places and his written collaboration with this religious publication urge us to dedicate this issue of Holy Places to his memory, as a pious commemoration of our good brotherhood in prayer and of the struggles of our monastic life.

We pray that God forgive him and bless his soul in the dwelling places of the righteous.

May the memory of his life be eternal!

The following poem and the one from the next issue are the last that St. John sent to the Holy Places publication.

(To be continued)