The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

[Continued from Part II, and loosely translated from A Russian Missionary in India: Archimandrite Andronicus.]

After his departure from the Bethany ashram, Andronicus settled in Pattanapuram at the English school of St Stephen. He was then able to travel as a pastor around Travancore; occasionally, he was invited by Russians living in other parts of India to perform rites in Calcutta, Bangalore and Bombay. He also visited the Portuguese colony of Goa.

In 1939, he was established an Orthodox chapel in the village of Patali, a few miles from Pattanapuram, and began offering services. Next door was a Hindu temple of Bhadrakali. The locals were not pleased that the church was being set up, and complained to the government, which ignored them and permitted the church to continue.

Andronicus, as ecumenical as ever, established cordial relations with the chief priest of the Bhadrakali temple, as well as the local Muslim clergy. (Subsequently, he even attended a series of lectures on Hinduism in Madras, offered in 1948 by Somasundaram Iyer.) In Patali, there were Jacobites as well, whose church Andronicus often visited, and who also came to him during the Holy Week for confession. He was tireless in his works - preached, performed the liturgy at the St Thomas Church, constantly visited the sick. His superiors considered him a prime example of the apostolic man, hard-working and self-sacrificing, courageously undergoing all sorts of hardships and dangers both physical and spiritual, and continuing for years without confession.

Andronicus's superior, the Parisian metropolitan Eulogius, did all he could to publicise among the faithful in the Church. He wrote to the Russian Orthodox flock living in India about Andronicus, praising his steadfastness and urging the Russians to go to him for all their spiritual needs. 'His work is great and difficult,' wrote Eulogius. 'He brought from the Mother Church and lit up in distant India the lamp of the holy Orthodox faith that will not only illuminate the Russian peoples scattered there, but also, possibly, attract the native non-Christian folk and kindle in them a feeling for the Saviour, so that they may exclaim in an incandescence of faith as did St Thomas: My Lord and my God!'

Eulogius concluded his epistle with an exhortation to the Russians to assist father Andronicus in his lonely task. Let not the light of Orthodoxy be extinguished, he wrote, let it shine its saving grace on everything - be it ours or their's, be it near or far.

In 1934, for the first time Andronicus was able to hold a service for a distinctly Russian audience - nearly sixty peasants who had come to India in the previous two years, but who were now getting ready to leave for Brazil. For the first time in three and a half years in India, wrote Andronicus to Eulogius, I was able to serve as in Russia, and offer confession and communion.

In 1937, Andronicus was promoted to the rank of Archimandrite; his investment was performed at the Catholicos' residence, and conducted by the Serbian metropolitan Dosifej who was in India attending an international conference of the YMCA at Mysore.

Andronicus's travels around India continued. In 1944, he served the nearly 80 Russians in Calcutta, and performed office for the local Armenians as well at their cemetery church. There were fewer Russians in Bombay but there was still a need for pastoral care. During a visit to Delhi, Andronicus got acquainted with Nicholas Roerich's assistant, Shibayev, from whom he came learn of the various activities and interests of the great Russian artist, writer and Orientalist, who lived in the Himalayas at the time.

In 1947, Andronicus was invited to teach Russian at the University of Delhi. He had learned over his travels in India that Indians were interested in Russia and the Orthodox faith, although to varying degrees: they were interested in Russian politics and economics, and vaguely so in the faith; indeed, most educated Indians tended to assert that all religions were equal and good. So Andronicus was happy to use the opportunity in Delhi to teach Indian students not only the language, but also (hoping that they would develop deeper interests in) Russian culture and religion.

Following Indian independence and the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, the Russian department at the University expanded considerably. Many students hoped to obtain employment at the Soviet embassy. 

Andronicus stayed in Delhi for over a year, during which he introduced the basics of Orthodoxy to his students. In one of the two rooms he occupied during his stay, he established a little chapel where he offered worship regularly. He then returned to the south, hoping to establish a monastery in the Nilgiris and to continue his monastic life. This did not quite work out, as in 1948, he was invited by bishop John (Shakhovsky) to travel to the United States to continue his pastoral work in the Americas. And so his eighteen-year stay in India came to an end.

He spent two months awaiting his passport and visa in Madras, where he often visited the site of the martyrdom of St Thomas the Apostle. The holy location was situated within a small Catholic nunnery. The Thomas church on the hill held an ancient revered stone cross and an icon of the Mother of God. There was a grand cathedral in Mylapore that Andronicus often went to, built over the tomb of St Thomas. 'These places, of course, remain shrines for all true Christians,' he wrote, 'and the Orthodox faithful from the western coast visit them in awe.'

In 1949, Andronicus travelled by sea to New York. There began a new period in his pastoral work. He also started to write his memoir of his Indian life. To the end of his life, he held India in especial esteem. No matter where I might be, he wrote, I cannot remove India from my heart and from my thoughts. The unification of the churches remained his lifelong occupation and concern.

Andronicus died in 1958. His book Eighteen Years in India was published in the Russian language in Argentina the next year. A review appeared in the Bulletin of the Russian Student Christian Movement, praising his selflessness, elevating him as an outstanding evangelist, talked about the lonely heroism of his mission, and celebrated his memoir a special example in the literature of exile. Others familiar with his work in India pointed out that his mission was essentially a failure, as he had been unable to convert the heathens to the faith, and did not establish his own church community either. The reason, of course, was that the Orthodox church of South India, while not in communion with the Russian Orthodox, was close enough to the latter in faith and spirit. And so after much deliberation, Andronicus concluded he should help the Syrian Orthodox church and not establish a separate congregation. Where Andronicus had established a small church in Patali, a lone Indian monk remained, continuing his work. The surrounding communities remembered the unusual Russian priest with gratitude and hoped he'd return, but it was not to happen.


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