Memory Eternal Fr. Vladimir Shishkoff

by Igumen German Ciuba

With the repose of Father Vladimir Shishkoff a chapter of church history is ending. I know that I am not alone in feeling an immense debt of gratitude to Father Vladimir for all the assistance he provided over the years. There was a time when he was the face of the Synod, and he represented it well, with dignity, zeal and love.

For those who did not know Father Vladimir or have forgotten him, I would like to share a few recollections.

Fr Vladimir grew up in the large and thriving Russian community that formed in Yugoslavia after the Bolshevik Revolution. He was an altar server at the Russian Church of the Holy Trinity in Belgrade, where he absorbed the church services and their typicon. He was perhaps one of our last links to Metropolitan Antony (Khrapovitsky), of blessed memory, our first Primate. After World War II, he came to the U.S. with his family. He served in the American army in Japan. He studied at Dartmouth University and became a civil engineer. He worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (at one time his office was in the World Trade Center), and he was connected with the construction of the Verrazano Bridge.

For many years he was a subdeacon for the late Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky), of blessed memory. He was a spiritual son of Archbishop Adrian (Rymarenko) of Rockland, the founder of Novo-Diveevo Convent, and later of the late Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky), of blessed memory. A descendant of the famous Russian statesman and writer Admiral A.S. Shishkoff, he married the daughter of Father George Grabbe, later Bishop Gregory of Manhattan, of Washington and Florida, who for many years was the administration of our Synod.

In middle age Father Vladimir was ordained to the sacred priesthood, while continuing to work as an engineer. He was sent to Our Lady of Kazan Church in Newark, New Jersey, where the parish was in very poor shape, having experienced a scandal with a previous priest and being located in a slum of Newark. Fr Vladimir later reminisced that when he first came to his church, there were roaches running across the altar. Under his direction the parish acquired and moved to a lovely former Episcopal church in a better neighbourhood of Newark, which over the years Fr Vladimir decorated with many beautiful icons, all the while preserving the distinctive brick architecture of the church. The parish grew and thrived under Fr Vladimir's rectorship. The services were done "po ustavu." Every Friday night an Akathistos to the Mother of God of Kazan was served.

Although he was a staunch Russian patriot, he welcomed everyone, Russian or not. He used to say that the Russian language never saved anyone. Father Vladimir was a dynamo of energy, always on the go, always helping someone.

He and his perfect complement, Matushka Mary, were emblematic of Russian hospitality. Everyone was always welcome at their house; one never knew who would turn up for dinner (poor Matushka always had to be prepared!). They always had people staying with them. For many years, until his repose, they took care of the invalid Abbot Gerasim (Romanoff); later they took in Matushka's father, Bishop Gregory, when he retired. And there were others - a recovering alcoholic, a new immigrant, a needy clergyman - all found refuge with the Shishkoffs at their home in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and later in Elmwood Park.

When Fr Vladimir retired from his secular job, he went to work at the Synod on 93rd Street as an assistant to Bishop Gregory. There he was instrumental in bringing many people into the Russian Church Abroad.

Though Fr Vladimir did not have a formal theological education, he was very well-read; he had an excellent library, and knew the services, canons and history of the Church very well.

Fr Vladimir was a man of fiery character and commanding presence. I remember back in 1981, when my Roman Catholic grandmother passed away, Fr Vladimir came to the funeral home to pay his respects. When he walked in, tall and distinguished, dressed in a long winter ryasa and carrying a silver-tipped cane, a hush fell over everyone at the wake, and one of my aunts said, "He's like Moses!" Fr Vladimir used his strong character, his booming bass voice and his confident mind in the service of the Church. Many times he would be sent out by the hierarchy as a trouble-shooter to some parish where there were problems. To such situations he brought common sense and good order. One always felt that there was an authoritative figure one could turn to in moments of doubt and difficulty. Fr Vladimir was able to unite in his person strictness and gentleness, insistence and understanding, zeal and love, single-mindedness and tolerance, prayerfulness and sociability, spirituality and worldly experience.

I came to him as a young man, a student and a seminary drop-out, and he took me in to his parish, made me a reader and later sponsored my ordination to the holy priesthood. Especially in the difficult first years after ordination, Fr Vladimir was always on call for advice and direction. He affected my life deeply, and I am privileged to have known him.

In later years Fr Vladimir, a man of strong and unshakable convictions who feared no one, could not in good conscience accept the changes which the Russian Church Abroad underwent after the fall of communism and the failure of our initial policy of confrontation with the Moscow Patriarchate, which led to the creation of what is now called the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church, under Metropolitan Valentin of Suzdal. He was loyal to his beliefs, and sadly ended up isolated from the rest of his beloved Russian Church Abroad. In his last years he suffered what was surely a great podvig for a man of his mind and energy, reduced to the life of a frail invalid in a wheelchair. In everything his support and help has been Matushka Mary, whose sweetness and calmness fittingly contrasted with Fr Vladimir's peppery and energetic character. Matushka cared for Fr Vladimir at home, just as she had cared for so many others over the years, with patience and kindness.

May God grant his servant Archpriest Vladimir rest in that place where there is no more sickness, sadness or sighing, no more politics and jurisdictions, but life unending!

Abbot German Ciuba
[R0C0R-MP hieromonk]



Reader Daniel said...

Memory Eternal! to Archpriest Vladimir!
Most of this rememberance of Fr. Vladimir, by ROCOR-MP priest, German, is very valuable.
Yet his lengthy, second from the last, paragraph, shows his condescending/patronizing ROCOR-MP mind-set,(yes, though mixed with his profuse praises for Fr. Vladimir) towards one who just could not keep in step with...progress, with the 'union' with the KGB-controled Moscow Patrarchy. This ROCOR-MP judgemental condescending stance, is what those who so foolishly succumbed to that foul 'union' take to all of us, who could not, in good conscience, go along with their impious folly.
Otherwise, Fr. German's memories of Fr. Vladimir are quite correct. Too bad, that he didn't follow Fr. Vladimir's example!
A separate note: As far as is presently known, our ROCA Fr. Gregory Kotlaroff, kindly, allowed his St. Sergius Church at the Tolstoy Farm, to be ...used....for the 3 day affair, where Fr. Vladimir's body rested , and where there were two days of pannychidas, and then his funeral, all services performed by Met. Valentine of Suzdal (ROAC) and his clergy. His burial was at the Novo Diveyo cemetery. It appears, that the simple reason for this location, i.e. using our ROCA Tolstoy Farm church, was practical, as Fr. Vladimir's home church, was in his cramped little cellar, which would have been much too small and undignified a church, for his funeral. And very few mourners could have fit into it. It probabaly was as simple as, the widowed matushka of Fr. Vladimir.....asking...Fr. Gregory for this to be granted, and he said OK. So, it is highly unlikely that this...kindness....does suggests any bigger re-approachment brewing between ROCA and ROAC, but simply Christian charity for a highly respected priest, whom many of the older old-ROCOR, priests (now scattered in different jurisdictions) well loved and respected. And since our Vl. Agafangel has said sympathetic words about Fr. Vladimir, it is doubtful that either he or kind-hearted Archb. Andronik would have refused this kindness. We await some photos.
Reader Daniel

Joanna Higginbotham said...

It is true that the 'left' sees the 'right' as outside the Church, and the 'right' sees the 'left' as outside the Church; and the Royal Path sees both these extremes as a spiritual illness.

I noticed Fr. German did not say that Fr, Vladimir was 'outside' the Church, but said he:

"... sadly ended up isolated from the rest of his beloved Russian Church Abroad ..."

From our perspective the chapter has not closed, though, since we have the continuation of the R0C0R through Vladyka Agafangel. What is beloved about R0C0R went with Vladyka Agafangel. Those who are sensitive in the R0C0R-MP, sense that something holy has been lost in R0C0R-MP and they are watching the last traces of it disappear. They are being left with a hollow shell, like the rest of World 0rthodoxy. Watch as the focus in R0C0R-MP continues to shift from the salvation of the individual soul to the 'moral rebirth of society'. According to Fr. Seraphim Rose, this is an indication that faith is lacking.

Fr. Vladimir truly was isolated from the R0C0R-MP, but he was and is not isolated from our Church Fathers whom Fr. German mentions:

Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky), of blessed memory, Archbishop Adrian (Rymarenko) of Rockland, the founder of Novo-Diveevo Convent, and later of the late Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky) [St. Philaret of New York]

As sad as it is to be isolated from our brothers in the R0C0R-MP, it would be far sadder, intolerable even, to be isolated from our Church Fathers.

0f all those left in the R0C0R-MP, Fr. German is the one of the two I miss the most . He is a good priest.

Joanna Higginbotham said...

Somebody said that I say that RT0C is the true catacomb church, because I said that the newly reposed Fr. Vladimir was not isolated from the modern Church Fathers.

I really didn't mean to give that impression I do not accept the idea that RT0C is/was the catacomb church. But I do believe that Fr. Vladimir is/was among our modern Church Fathers.

I see Fr. Vladimir as part of the original R0C0R. And this is more powerful and more meaningful and more real, than his connection to the RT0C which has "imaginary canonicity" as Fr. Victor has explained.

[see post 7/8/09 "Imaginary Canonical Independence"]

Something about funerals is while we pray for the departed one, we also see our own end and what is ultimately important -- what is meaningful and real, as opposed to what is just on the surface or contrived. Contrived works are lost, but the man can be saved even when his works are lost. Christ says this somewhere in Scripture. When I wrote that comment, I was thinking more about the ultimate things and I failed to explain that.

Thank you all for your patience with me.