Yesterday, March 16, 2018, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia commemorated 10 years since the repose of its first hierarch, Metropolitan Laurus (Škurla) (1928-2008). He was the fifth cleric to hold that position.
Metropolitan Laurus was born as Vasil' Michalovič Škurla in what is today Slovakia in a Ruthenian village of Ladomirova. Ruthenes are an ethnic group inhabiting Eastern Slovakia and Western Ukraine. Ukrainians call them Transcarpathian Ukrainians, but their language is distinct from both Ukrainian and Slovak. They call themselves Rusyns. Most of their population belongs to the Greek Catholic, or "Byzantine Rite Eastern Catholic" Church, meaning their outside appearance and rites are Eastern Orthodox, but they accept the authority of the Pope. The future metropolitan was born in an Orthodox Christian family, a minority in that part of Czechoslovakia.
Vasil' started serving at the altar of a monastery church in his village at the age of five, and at the age of eight he already asked the abbot to accept him as a novice. He gained his father's permission to join the monastery of St. Job of Pochaev at the age of eleven.
When the Red Army approached in 1944. the brotherhood evacuated the monastery, first travelling to Bratislava, then Germany, and finally to Geneva, Switzerland. In 1946, they jointly emigrated to the United States. They joined Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, upstate New York, established in 1928 by the ROCOR.
Vasil' graduated the seminary in 1947. He was tonsured monk and given the name Laurus the following year. In 1954, Laurus was ordained to priesthood, and he became igumen in 1959. In 1966 he was elevated to archimandrite. In 1981, he became archibishop.
In October 2001, after the retirement of Metropolitan Vitaly (Ustinov), Archbishop Laurus was elected Metropolitan of Eastern America and New York and the first hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia by the Synod of Bishops.
On May 17, 2007, Laurus signed the Act of Canonical Communion in Moscow, Russia, and served the divine Liturgy with the Moscow Patriarch Alexei II. This historical service in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour marked the solemn reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church, separated for almost a century.
When I met Metropolitan Laurus and briefly talked to him in his residence three years before his repose, he gave an impression of a humble, quiet and down-to-earth hierarch. Nothing in his appearance or the appearance of his study demonstrated the high position he held. He remained humble, pious and dedicated to the leadership of the Church. His role in in bringing the two lungs of the Russian Church together and healing the wounds of the greatest division of the faithful in Russian history was instrumental.
Metropolitan Laurus reposed at the age of 80 in the Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, on March 16, 2008. He was buried next to the previous leaders of ROCOR at the Holy Trinity Monastery's cemetery, and succeeded by Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral).