Orthodox America

A New Bishop

On June 7, 1992, in the San Francisco Cathedral of Our Lady, "Joy of All Who Sorrow," priests and laity gathered from all parts of the Western American Diocese of the Russian Church Abroad to pray and witness the consecration of Abbot Kyrill (Dmitrieff) to the episcopacy. The rite was celebrated by Metropolitan Vitaly, assisted by the diocese's ruling hierarch, Archbishop Anthony, Archbishop Laurus of Holy Trinity Monastery and Bishop Hilarion of Manhattan. As Vicar Bishop, Vladika Kyrill will assist Archbishop Anthony in administering the large diocese, overseeing parishes in Washington, Idaho and Oregon, with his cathedra in Seattle. It was in Seattle that the aristocratic Dmitrieff family landed in 1922, after fleeing the Bolshevik terror which had claimed the lives of many members in their native Russia. The family soon settled in San Francisco, and there Boris Mikhailovich Dmitrieff, the future Bishop Kyrill, was born, on 24 November 1954.

Although the family was not particularly religious and there were no known clerics on the family tree, from childhood Boris loved the church atmosphere and he became noticeably upset if he had to miss a Sunday service. His youthful desire to become a priest never left him. Not surprisingly he chose a religious education, and after graduating from Lowell High School in 1972, where he also completed the ROTC program, he entered the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution, where he majored in Roman Catholic theology. The challenge to his Orthodox faith proved beneficial in stimulating a deeper knowledge of Orthodoxy, although one professor nearly failed him for a paper he wrote attacking the primacy of Peter.

It took several more years before Boris found his bearings in the Orthodox world. His family had little discernment in church affairs, and by remaining in the parish they had joined on arriving in San Francisco they found themselves, after the schism of the 1930s, in the American Metropolia. As a teenager Boris began regularly attending the Holy Virgin Cathedral of the Russian Church Abroad. When, however, it came time for seminary, Boris returned to the Metropolia and, in 1976, enrolled at St. Vladimir's Theological Academy. There he found himself consistently drawn to the more conservative faculty, such as the late Professor Verkhovskoy; he was bothered by the increasing modernist tendencies, the laxity in respect to fasting (he himself ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches) and other Orthodox practices. By the time he graduated, his view of the true nature of Orthodoxy and the Church had clarified considerably, and when he returned home to San Francisco, he also returned "home" to the Church Abroad. His family followed his example.

Boris had always envisioned himself as a married priest, and had prepared himself with a major in pastoral theology. However, he had little practical direction in his life. When a priest suggested he seek some guidance by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he took the money he was saving for a car and bought a plane ticket. He arrived in Jerusalem on the eve of Palm Sunday, 1980.

It was a different world. Conditions in Palestine offered few of the earthly comforts and conveniences taken for granted in the West. A lack of material adornment revealed life's essential dimensions, and Christianity's seemingly harsh precepts of self-denial and renunciation appeared not only justifiable but even compelling. The path of monasticism, which Boris had always seen as fearfully restrictive, now offered him the greatest potential for spiritual perfection.

He returned to the Holy Land in August of that year and began his novitiate under the tutelage of Archimandrite Nektary. As an obedience he was assigned to teach English and Russian at the Bethany School. In February 1981 he was professed a riassophore monk and in June, in the church at the Judgement Gate, Archimandrite Anthony (Grabbe), then head of the Jerusalem Mission, tonsured him to the Small Mantia, giving him the name Kyrill in honor of the Apostle to the Slavs. A few weeks later he was ordained hierodeacon by Metropolitan Philaret at the Synod Headquarters in New York, and the following month, on July 26, at the Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco, Archbishop Anthony ordained him to the priesthood. That fall Hieromonk Kyrill returned to the Holy Land where he resumed teaching English at the Bethany School and served at the Gethsemane Convent. A serious illness forced his return to the States in December. Back in San Francisco, his temporary assignment as priest of the Church of the Resurrection was confirmed in July 1982 when he was appointed parish rector. That fall he began teaching at the cathedral Russian school of Ss. Cyril and Methodius. He was appointed headmaster in 1987, and the same year he was elevated to the rank of abbot.

The present climate of religious indifference and moral turpitude seems hardly auspicious for one commissioned to guide and govern souls. This is not, however, a secular profession but a ministry of grace-of divine power which enabled simple fishermen to catch the universe. As their newly-ordained successor, may God grant Bishop Kyrill to make full use of this power over many years of fruitful and intense apostolic labors. - ED.

See also The Rite of Consecration and Abbot Kyrill's Oration at His Election to the Episcopacy