Metropolitan Vitaly Ustinov

Russian Orthodox leader in exile


Rostislav Petrovich Ustinov, priest: born St Petersburg 18 March 1910; clothed a monk 1939, taking the name Vitaly; ordained priest 1941; Bishop of Brazil 1951-54; Bishop of Edmonton 1954-57; Archbishop of Montreal 1957-86; First Hierarch of Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia 1986-2001, died Magog, Quebec 25 September 2006.

For the last 15 years of the 20th century, the aged Metropolitan Vitaly headed the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (Rocor). This proud but dwindling church defiantly traced its history back to Patriarch Tikhon, the last non-Soviet-chosen head of the Moscow Patriarchate who blessed the émigré church's escape from Moscow's control in the 1920s as the Soviet authorities moved to crush the Patriarchate at home.

Rocor revered the "martyred" Russian imperial family, resisted what it regarded as the "heresy" of ecumenism and from afar scorned what it viewed as the ungodly collaboration of the Moscow Patriarchate's bishops and priests with the Soviet authorities.

Even in his nineties in retirement, Vitaly fought a rearguard action to resist Rocor's growing rapprochement with the Moscow Patriarchate launched by his successors. "I can calmly assert, with a clear conscience," Vitaly declared in 2004, defending his decision to split from his erstwhile colleagues, "that we have remained faithful to the ideology and principles of the Russian Orthodox Church and of that free part of Her which was created by Patriarch Tikhon."

Rostislav Ustinov was born in 1910 into a military family in the Russian imperial capital St Petersburg. In 1920, as the civil war raged between Reds and Whites, Ustinov's family sent him to the military school founded in Crimea by the White general Pyotr Wrangel. The boy joined what he later described as the "glorious" White forces, but as their cause crumbled all 650 cadets were evacuated to Constantinople. "Within the depths of my soul," he later recalled, "I felt and realised that I was beholding my native land for the last time, until it vanished beyond the horizon."

The Cadet Corps - among them the young Ustinov - was relocated to Yugoslavia, where many Russian monarchist émigrés settled. In 1923, his mother took him back to Constantinople and then to Paris, where he completed his schooling. After a spell in the French cavalry he decided to follow his vocation and in 1938 he entered the Monastery of St Job in the Carpathians (then in Czechoslovakia). The following year he became a monk, taking the name Vitaly. By now Central Europe was engulfed in war and was soon invaded by Nazi forces. In 1941, in the Slovak city of Bratislava, Fr Vitaly was ordained by Metropolitan Seraphim of Berlin and assigned to minister in two towns on the Polish border.

However, if conditions were not too uncongenial for anti-Bolshevik Russian Orthodox under Nazi rule, the imminent Red Army invasion forced the monks to flee. Vitaly ended up in Berlin, ministering to Russian forced labourers and prisoners of war in a tuberculosis-ridden camp near the Nazi capital. But as the Red Army moved closer to Berlin he and a fellow priest fled to Hamburg, where the two did their best to save émigré Russians from forced repatriation to the Soviet Union and certain death.

In a barracks in the Fischbeck displaced persons' camp - where most of the inmates were Orthodox - he established a makeshift chapel and theology courses for young men. "The camp church was the centre of life and growth in the Orthodox faith for young and old alike," one inmate who later became a priest recalled. "Its spiritual leaders enjoyed the common love and respect of all."

In 1947 Vitaly came to London to head the Rocor parish. He and Fr Anthony Bloom of the Moscow Patriarchate alternated their Sunday services at a dilapidated Anglican church on Buckingham Palace Road, but relations between them were hardly cordial. Bloom once asked Vitaly what he thought of him. "If I wanted to be polite I would say: 'You are not a priest'," Vitaly responded. "But I will give you a straight answer: 'If you are under Moscow, you are a priest of Satan!' "

Vitaly was consecrated as a bishop in 1951 in London and transferred to Sao Paolo, Brazil, where he founded a small orphanage for boys. In 1954 he became Bishop of Edmonton, and in 1957 Archbishop of Montreal. There he acquired and renovated the huge St Nicholas' Cathedral but, as before, he preferred to live in a small monastic community he established in Mansonville in rural Quebec.

After the death in 1985 of Rocor's leader, Metropolitan Philaret Voznesensky, the Council of Bishops met in New York in 1986 to choose his successor. After several tied ballots, Vitaly was chosen by lot.

As Communism began to crumble in Russia in the late 1980s - and with it the monopoly of the Moscow Patriarchate - Vitaly eagerly welcomed defectors within Russia, setting up parallel parishes and dioceses. But many in Rocor were wary, fearing an unstable network of parishes in Russia would discredit the church.

Suffering memory loss, Vitaly retired in 2001, 50 years after his consecration. But within weeks he regretted the move, publicly attacking his successor, Metropolitan Laurus. Vitaly led his faithful followers into schism. "There came a time when I recognised that I was left all alone," he explained:

I had the choice of writing the final chapter of the Church Abroad or of embarking upon the road once more, and of again carrying away the true Orthodox Church to freedom with me. Our church became small, but preserved her crystal-like purity.

Vitaly's final years were marred by murky goings-on at his monastery, with allegations that his entourage was holding him hostage and faking his signature on church decisions. Like many splinter religious communities, his church came to fight not so much to preserve the purity of its faith as to engage in bitter infighting.

Felix Corley

News
Alan Bennett has criticised the “repellent” reality shows which dominate our screens
tvBut he does like Stewart Lee
Life and Style
The Google Doodle celebrating the start of the first day of autumn, 2014.
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
News
Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin, left, with her daughter, Bristol
newsShe's 'proud' of eldest daughter, who 'punched host in the face'
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Life and Style
food + drink
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
News
A cabin crew member photographed the devastation after one flight
news
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits