Ambrose (Pappa-Georgopoli) of Belaya Krinitsa

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Saint Ambrosii of Belaya Krinitsa

Ambrosii or Amvrosii (Russian) was the first Old Believers' Mitropolitan of the Ancient Orthodox Church. He was born in 1791 in Maistra, at that time part of the Ottoman Empire as Andreas Popovic. He was of Greek origin. He became a bishop in 1835. He converted to the Old Believers in 1846, thus establishing a full Church Hierarchy of the Old Believers. This hierarchy became known as the Belokrinitskaya Hierarchy. He died in 1863.


The Old Believers (Starovery in Russian) or Old Ritualists (Staroobrjadtsy in Russian) or, as they are also called, Ancient Orthodox (Drevlepravoslavnye in Russian), are those Christians who remained faithful to the ancient rites, dogmas and ecclesiastical structures of Russian Orthodoxy as it was before the reforms in the seventeenth century introduced by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow.

Many of the Old Believers migrated to Siberia and neighboring countries, especially Romania. Most of them have never lost or refused priesthood, even though some have denied it, and are therefore called "priestless" (Bespopovtsy in Russian): their view on priesthood is not motivated by the innovations of Nikon, but by their vision of the imminent kingdom of the Antichrist.

Over time, the Old Believers founded a center at the Rogozhky cemetery in Moscow, and later the monastery of Belaya Krinitsa ("White Fountain") in Bukovina, then part of Austria-Hungary, now in Ukraine. Although there had been a few Old Believer bishops ordained by Non-Russian Orthodox prelates, none of them had left successors, because under the reign of Tsar Nicholas I several laws restricted the reception of converts from the Official Church.

In Austria-Hungary, Old Believers founded the monastery of Belaya Krinitsa, as a place of freedom for the Old Believers (which carried the name of Lipoveni), thanks to laws enacted in 1783 by the Emperor Joseph II. In Vienna, the Minister of Interior, Conte Kolovrat, and Archduke Ludwig prepared the way for the permission to be given by Ferdinand in 1844, to invite a foreign bishop to establish his headquarters in Belaya Krinitsa to serve the needs of the Old Believers in the domains of the Empire.

There existed for generations communities of Old Believers in Turkey who were European refugees from the persecutions in Russia, and it was natural that the search for a bishop in order to establish an independent full Church Hierarchy was one of their first steps. According to reports from the Russian government after the middle of the 17th century about 4,000 Old Believers lived in Austria, mostly in Bukovina, on the border with Russia at the Prut river, and about 36,000 lived the Ottoman Empire. Of the latter, the majority lived in Dobruja, north at the Danube delta. Osip Semenovich Goncharov, Ataman of the Nekrasov Cossacks, established contact between bishop Ambrosii and two Russian monks, Pavel and Alimpii, who were searching for an orthodox bishop willing to join the Old Believers.

Biography of Saint Ambrosii

In 1811, the future Metropolitan Ambrosii, then still Andreas, was married, and shortly after he was ordained as a priest by Metropolitan Matthew. In 1814 he lost his wife, who had given him a son, named George, after his grandfather. In 1817 he was elected Igumen of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity on the island of Halki. Patriarch Constantine had him locum tenens of the patriarchal Greek Church in 1827. As is clear from a document dated 9 September 1835, he was ordained as a bishop of Sarajevo in Bosnia by Patriarch Gregory, assisted by four other bishops. He remained in his position for five years before being removed by the Ottoman authorities.

A Serb, Costantino Efimovic acted as an interpreter between bishop Ambrosii and two above-mentioned monks from Russia, Pavel and Alimpii. Pavel and Alimpii examined the orthodox beliefs of Ambrosii. Bishop Ambrosii presented documents from the Patriarch of Constantinople which confirmed Ambrosii's canonical status. Bishop Ambrosii and his son then took time to investigate the status of the Russian Orthodox Old canonry and what he was asked, before giving its consent on 15 April 1846.

Convertion to the Old Faith

After a trip along the Danube, bishop Ambrosii and the monks Pavel and Alimpii arrived in Tulcea, nowadays in Romania, where five hundred Nekrasov Cossacks, together with the monks of the monastery of Slavo-Rus, their Father and Igumen Makarii Arkadii Lavrentiyevskii presented the Metropolitan the traditional tokens of hospitality: bread with salt. The government requested and obtained from the Patriarchate of Constantinople a favorable report on the bishop, before giving him permission to establish his residence in their domains. After a meeting to discuss the procedure for settlement of Ambrosii, on 28 October 1846 he held the office Vigil in honour of St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker. The following day, after having read the usual confession of faith in Slavonic bishop Ambrosii was accepted according to Canon 95 of the Sixth Ecumenical Council. The priest monk Ieronim, with the blessing of the first and the new Metropolitan of Belaya Krinitsa and all the Russian Old Believers, began the Divine Liturgy, celebrated by Ambrosii.

The bishop read the prayers in his native language, Greek, but the deacon and the choir used Slavonic. Due to the absence of two other bishops, he used two archpriests, a procedure already used before in the history of the Church in cases of necessity, and described in some lives of saints. In August 1847 there was the ordination of Bishop Arkadii by Salvo-Rus, an ancient seat of an Orthodox monastery at Tulcea, which still exists in Romania.

The Russian Foreign Ministry threatened to retaliate the government of the Roman Catholic, if it had not withdrawn the permission to the Old Believers to establish their own Metropolia in the Habsburg Empire. The Holy Synod, by which the Tsar controlled the State Church since the abolition of the Patriarchate under Peter I, likewise threatened to cut all financial assistance from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, if he had not done everything in its power to induce the Metropolitan Ambrosii to change its position. Metropolitan Ambrosii, however, refused. Certainly the Old Believers convinced him that the system of the Holy Synod, established in 1700 by Peter I to check the status of the church in place of the patriarch, and with whom they have not wanted to do was not a canon. By decree of Tsar Paul I, the Russian rulers had declared "the Church" and all the bishops of the church had been obliged to honour an oath to that effect.

Exile and Death

In response to diplomatic pressure, the Austrian-Hungarian authorities closed the monastery of Belaya Krinitsa on 3th March 1848, and Metropolitan Ambrosii was sent into exile in Tzill in Styria. After the outbreak of revolutions in Vienna, with the assistance of Count Kolovrat, the Minister mentioned, the monastery of Belaya Krinitsa was reopened at the end of 1848, though the Metropolitan had to remain in exile. The successor of the latter was Antonii (Shutov), who became the first Old Believers' archbishop of Moscow.

Metropolitan Ambrosii lived fifteen years in exile and suffered from his isolation. Nonetheless he had helpend the Old Believers in their need to establish a full Church Hierarchy. He saw this as the Will of God. On 28 October 1863 he sent his last official act as primate of the Russian Old Believer Archbishop Antonii and all the bishops under his jurisdiction. The document begins with the words: "For the mercy of God, the humble Archbishop and Metropolitan of all the Old-Rite Orthodox, Ambrosii." In the text he expresses regret that he lived so far away from his flock, and that his health did not allow him to do more, but that he remains open to discuss any issue relating to the church people, under his spiritual care. This document clearly refuted allegations from some enemies of the Old Faith that wanted people to believe that the Holy Metropolitan had eventually rejected his flock.

Metropolitan Ambrosii died in 1863. Metropolitan Kirill held his funeral at Belaya Krinitsa monastery, but the Metropolitan was buried in the Greek-Orthodox cemetery of Trieste.

Investigation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople

In 1899 the Patriarch of Constantinople established a commission to investigate the issue of Metropolitan Ambrosii and his acceptance of the primacy of the Russian Old Orthodox Church. The committee issued a decree of recognition of the hierarchy established by Metropolitan Ambrosii. This decree met with disapproval of Pobedonostsev, the Chairman of the Holy Synod of the Russian-Orthodox State Church.

Canonization of Metropolitan Ambrosii

At a joint synod held at the Monastery of Belaya Krinitsa 150 years after its acceptance of the primacy, Metropolitan Ambrosii was canonized on 11th November 1996, in the presence of both his successors, Metropolitan Leontii of Belaya Krinitsa and the Metropolitan Alimpii of Moscow and All Russia. The day of his feast was assigned to October 30 (November 12, according to the new calendar) each year. On 18/31 May 2000 the exhumation took place of the relics and their translation from Trieste to a Braila, Romania. Some years later, the monks Pavel and Alimpii, too, were canonized by the Old Believers.