His Eminance Metropolitan Vitaly

A short biographical sketch

His Eminence Metropolitan Vitaly, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, was born in Petrograd on 18 March 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, nee 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. That same year, towards the end of the Civil War, the cadets of the academy were evacuated, first to Constantinople, and subsequently to Yugoslavia, where they were accommodated initially in Strnishche and afterwards in Bela Crkva. 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, based in Lyons. Colonel de Mulens, commander of the regiment, expressed his desire that Corporal Ustinov remain in the regiment on completing his term of service, promising to promote him to officer's rank; 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, which had been founded by Archimandrite Vitaly (Maximenko), later Archbishop of Eastern America and New York, co-founder of Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville. During his last trip to Europe, in the autumn of 1937, His Grace Archbishop Vitaly visited the monastery he had founded and invested the aspirant Rostislav with the cassock. In 1938, the monastery's abbot, Archimandrite Seraphim Ivanov, the present 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, Porubki and Medvezhye, in the latter of which a new wooden church was erected even while World War II was in progress.

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 northem 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 present 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, P ochaev Leaflets, which, under the title Orthodox Digest, is still issued regularly. 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, Prestor. 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, still lives, and from which he ministers to all of northern Alberta. When Archbishop Panteleimon (Rudyk) of Montreal and Eastern Canada defected to the Moscow Patriarchate 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, who to this day, despite his advanced age, continues, in the same missionary spirit, to visit scattered groups of Orthodox Christians in remote areas of Alberta.

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 came 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 the United States this timely proposal has borne fruit in the organization of the General Studies Program at the headquarters of the Synod of Bishops in New York, and several bishops have expressed their interest in initiating similar pro rams in their dioceses.

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 was affirmed by his brother hierarchs and has to no small degree influenced the ecclesiastical policy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia since that time.

Parish Life
September, 1986