Mitropolitan Ambrose | Russian Oldbeliever Church

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Mitropolitan Ambrose

On October 28, 1846, the Old Believer Church was joined by the Bosno-Sarajevo metropolitan, Ambrose.

The acquisition of a bishop by the Old Believers was an astounding event for the synod and the Russian government. It suddenly changed the picture of religious life in Russia and around the established Old Orthodox hierarchy. Immediately around metropolitan Ambrose’s character, unfortunately, arose a lot of fabrications and slander.

Mitropolitan Ambrose

Much has been written and spoken about metropolitan Ambrose. Considerable attention was paid to his character by the well-known writer, P. I. Melnikov (known under the pseudonym Andrei Pechersky), who served as an official of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and was in charge of the affairs of the split.

In his reports to the minister, he acknowledged that “all the information about Ambrose’s character and about how he was procured by the schismatics, the information available in the ministries’ cases and those printed in different magazines and individual books, are completely false” and that metropolitan Ambrose is “a highly remarkable person – not a fool, not a swindler, not a traitor, as the writers in his native country portray him as.” He further adds that, “these lords consider that if anyone is a schismatic, then he already must be a miscreant.”

The most prominent “schismologist” of the last century, the irreconcilable adversary of the Old Believers, Professor N. I. Subbotin researched metropolitan Ambrose joining the Old Believer Church and the characterization of his personality, and had to give him recognition for his high dignity as a person and bishop.

He was truly a holy man, a saint of God, a righteous man, a confessor, a kind archpastor and hierarch of the Church of Christ.

Ambrose, named Andrew at baptism, was Greek and was born in 1791 in a small village called Maistra. The village, five kilometers from the city of Enos, was then a part of the Ottoman empire and is now located in Bulgaria.

His father, George Popovich, was a priest in the Greek Church. Twenty one generations of the Popovichs were priests and he began to prepare his son Andrew in childhood for spiritual service. Andrew entered a theological school, where he attended a course of theological sciences.

In 1811, he married and was soon ordained a priest. He lived with his wife for only three years before she died in 1814, leaving her husband and their son, George. Three years after the death of his wife, Andrew took monastic vows and received the name of Ambrose. One of the metropolitans of the Greek Church, Matthew, took him under his wing and in 1823, he was appointed rector of the Trinity Monastery on the island of Halki, located among the famous Princes’ Islands in the north-eastern part of the Sea of Marmara.

At that time, the patriarchal throne in Constantinople was occupied by the patriarch Constantine, who drew attention to the abbot of the Trinity Monastery and appointed him as the protosyncellus (the principal deputy of the bishop of a diocese for the purpose of administrative authority in an Orthodox church) of the Church of Constantinople. Professor Subbotin writes, “Here, Ambrose already stood on the direct road to receiving the episcopal order.”

Indeed, he soon occupied the chair of metropolitan Bosno-Sarajevo. As is written in Ambrose’s letter missive, “The Patriarchal Synod preferred him to all other candidates as worthy of perceiving the episcopal presidency and the crosier (pastoral staff) of the holy metropolitan Bosansky.” Metropolitan Ambrose was ordained by patriarch Gregory of Constantinople and with the service of four archpriests.

In his new position, metropolitan Ambrose was destined to endure a series of trials and oppression.

Bosnia was ruled then by the Ottoman Empire who callously plundered the Slavic people. Ordinarily, the Greek hierarchs met with the Turkish authorities and at the same time oppressed the people with them. “But metropolitan Ambrose,” testifies professor Subbotin, “was an exception among the Bosnian bishop-phanariots. A kind man by nature, he could not look at the plight of the people indifferently. He took his own side and, where possible, tried to ease the people’s needs”.

This was such an extraordinary phenomenon, so contradictory to the notion the people had developed of the Greek bishops that the people did not recognize him, Ambrose, for a Greek and a rumor spread widely that he was a natural Slav, namely a Bulgarian. Recorded in one Bosnian chronicle were these wonderful words about Ambrose: “This bishop was a holy man and he cared very much for the poor. He was a Bulgarian who he was not at all greedy for money and he only wished that the people had peace and to not suffer from wrongdoings against them” (N. I. Subbotin, “The History of the Belokrinitsky Hierarchy”, Moscow, 1874, p. 365).

Such a metropolitan was unwanted by the Turkish government. At the request of the authorities, on September 12, 1840, the patriarch Anfim II, fearing losing his patriarchal throne, ordered to recall metropolitan Ambrose from Sarajevo to Constantinople. With sorrow and with tears, Ambrose and his flock parted.

The Russian envoy in Constantinople, Titov, later asked the patriarch Anfim: why was Ambrose removed from the Bosnian chair? The Patriarch replied that he had recalled him from the Bosno-Sarajevo position, only to “yield to the persistent request of the Turkish authorities of Bosnia, from whom many slanders on Ambrose were put upon”.