Remembering Fr Oleg Kirilov

October 18, 2016

A memorial tribute by Yuri Sokolovski to Fr Oleg Kirilov, former rector of Christ the Saviour Sobor in Toronto, who died on 18 October in Moscow.

On September 20, 1945, a boy was born into a family of Russian émigrés, who were barely surviving in the occupied post-war West Berlin. On that day the Russian Orthodox church was remembering Saint Prince Oleg of Bryansk, so the newborn was also named Oleg.

Fast-forward twenty years...

Once, Oleg Kirilov was passing by a Russian Orthodox Church in West Berlin on his motorcycle, when suddenly he felt a strong desire to stop the bike. What forced him to stop - we can only guess. It could be some ache deep in his heart, or the beauty of the church attracted him - we would never know for sure. We can only guess what was on the mind of a young, gifted man, who likely would have had a very successful life in one of the fastest growing Western countries of that time (his parents wanted him to become a lawyer). But nevertheless he stopped and walked into the church on that sunny day. And he never looked back.

Fast-forward a few years more: young man, Oleg Kirilov graduated from St Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, and was ordained as a deacon and then as a priest. In the course of his priesthood Fr Oleg served in different Russian Orthodox parishes in Europe and Canada.

With the beginning of "perestroika" and fall of the "iron curtain", Fr Oleg, already an experienced priest was sent to Moscow and from 1993 served as a second priest at the re-opened church of St Phillip, Metropolitan of Moscow. As many other churches during Soviet period, the church was neglected and converted into a warehouse. The building and everything inside needed some major restoration efforts. From the very beginning Fr Oleg actively started participating in the restoration of the church, as well as the construction of the "Siberian guesthouse", contributing his personal funds to help with the restoration of the beautiful ancient church.

St Phillip's church is located near the "Prospect Mira" (Peace Prospect, in English) subway station in uptown Moscow. In 1993 the church had just re-opened, but in spite of the constant renovations, it was very cozy. So my future wife and I decided that we wanted to marry there.

I met Fr Oleg by a sheer accident. On that day, I dropped by the church after work to make arrangements for our marriage, and there among the construction scaffoldings Fr Oleg offered me to take a seat so that he could record my particulars in his notebook. He patiently explained to me the sanctity of marriage, the necessity of repentance and Holy Communion. Thus began our journey together, which was destined to be interrupted, but then miraculously restarted again in just a few years.

Until our departure to Canada in 1998, we were parishioners of St Phillip's. There Fr Oleg served at the funeral of my father-in-law and there also he baptized our first son Roman.

Our communication was interrupted for several years because of our move to Toronto, where we became parishioners of the Russian Orthodox Christ the Saviour Cathedral. In 2001 we suddenly learned that a new priest from Moscow was coming to serve as a rector at the cathedral. To our surprise the new rector was none other than Fr Oleg Kirilov! Of course, it was God's providence that we were once again under the roof of the same temple.

We helped him to rent an apartment in the Davisville area (the apartment buildings  in Davisville reminded him of Medvedkovo, area in the northern part of Moscow), in which he lived all the years while serving in Toronto.

At Christ the Saviour Cathedral Fr Oleg immediately started actively working on growing the parish and parish school, printing and distributing the newspaper "Orthodox Faith," advertising the church on Russian TV channels and in Russian Toronto newspapers. He constantly visited the elderly parishioners, and actively met with the immigrants from all ends of the former Soviet Union. Thanks to all these efforts, the parish started quickly growing, and the number of students of the Russian school multiplied.

Father Oleg was actively involved in the organization of pilgrimages of the parish school to Ottawa to visit the then-Archbishop Seraphim, as well as to the Serbian Orthodox monastery near Toronto.

Father Oleg organized a visit of Pochaev miracle-working icon of Mother of God, as well as the visit of the relics of St Prince Vladimir. Later, he ordered and arranged for the acquisition of a copy of the miraculous icon of Pochaev Mother of God.

If you find yourself in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Toronto, take a look around. Many of this century-old building's features have been updated thanks to the efforts of Fr Oleg. New wooden floors in the temple, the central carpet runner, iconostasis, the Pochaev icon of Mother of God, candelabrums, chandeliers, renovated dining room, and many other features bear the imprint of his loving care of God's temple. In last years of his service, he got very keen on the idea to install gilded domes, which had already been ordered and delivered from Russia. Unfortunately, due to various reasons, that idea did not materialize.

I thank God that He gave me and Fr Oleg an opportunity to spend those ten years together under the roof of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. In this temple, Fr Oleg baptized my daughter and our youngest son, and here they went to the parish school, learned to read and write in Russian, celebrated Christmas and Easter, played in school productions and have gained many friends.

Fr Oleg always taught us that the church should be the centre of our lives, so that we plan our life around the church, as opposed to adjusting the church life to our needs. He taught us to come to the church every Sunday and developed an serious attitude to the church sacraments.

Fr Oleg had an amazing sense of humor, he always appreciated a good joke, but remained remarkably tactful and caring companion. He spoke several European languages and was extremely well educated. Fr Oleg was always able to find a common ground with a very different audience: from the Patriarch of Moscow to an elderly parishioner, from a nouveau riche tycoon to a car mechanic.

After his retirement in 2011, he returned to his beloved Moscow. He stayed in his Moscow apartment near Alekseevskaya subway, not far from the church of St Phillip. Communicating with him became harder again, but we tried to keep in touch and called him regularly. While in Moscow, Fr Oleg continued to serve occasionally in the church of St Philip.

He often told me that his turn was coming and it was evident to me that he was getting ready for it. And last week, in the 72nd year of his life came the final moment for which Fr. Oleg was preparing all these years.

He lived a good life and left behind a good legacy. May God grant him to find repose in the kingdom of heaven, and may our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ grant him pardon and remission of sins.

Memory eternal!

Yuri Sokolovski