Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A short biography of ROCOR Bishop Constantine

(Jesensky or Essensky), born 1907 – died May 31, 1996, printed in 'Orthodox America'

Note: His body was just re-buried, by ROCOR/MP, on this December 1, 2014,  at Jordanville, from Blanco, Texas.

+May 18/31,1996
On May 31, 1996, Bishop Constantine (Jesensky, or Essensky)- departed this life. He was 89 years old. For the past five years he had been living in retirement at Christ of the Hills Monastery in Blanco, Texas, and it was there that his earthly remains were laid to rest, awaiting the General Resurrection. Emmanuel Jesensky, the future Bishop Constantine, was born in 1907 in St Petersburg, where his father worked in the Imperial Chancery. In the first year of the Revolution, the family moved to Riga, Latvia. Vladika's father was taken prisoner by the Bolsheviks and executed. His mother, on receiving this news, died of a heart attack, leaving eleven-year-old Emmanuel an orphan. He finished school and worked in a pharmacy. At the same time he studied iconography under the masterful Old Rite iconographer, Pimen Sofronov. In 1928 New Martyr Archbishop John of Riga blessed him to enter seminary. He graduated in 1930 and went to Paris, where he continued his studies and obtained his doctorate at the St Sergius Theological Academy. In 1932 Metropolitan Eulogius of Paris ordained him to the priesthood and sent him to Berlin, to the Church of Equal-to-the-Apostles Great Prince Vladimir, a distant ancestor. He served there for two years as second priest before being assigned rector of the Church of St Alexis Metropolitan of Moscow in Leipzig. During his four-year tenure there, he also served parishes in Kassel, Dresden and Einbeck.

      In 1938, Fr. Emmanuel and his parish left the Paris jurisdiction and joined the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. That same year he was sent as a delegate to the Second Pan-Diaspora Council. During the war he began to study medicine, completing four semesters at Berlin University. Due to ill health, he moved in 1945 to Bad-Hartzburg and was 'there during the American occupation.

      In 1949 Fr. Emmanuel emigrated to the United States. He served briefly in Washington DC and Trenton NJ before being assigned to Glen Cove NY, as rector of the Church of the Ascension. Fr Emmanuel had a particular love for the beauty of God's house, and, with his talent for iconography and his refined artistic sensibilities, he transformed the garage in which the church was located, into a lovely jewel, worthy of being God's temple. He had a great love for the Divine services, and his manner of serving was always dignified, never hurried, and deeply prayerful. One man, who had served as an acolyte under Vladika, said that when he served Liturgy, "his prayer was palpable. You could feel it!'
      It was evident to the church hierarchs that here was a suitable candidate for the episcopacy. In October 1967, Fr. Emmanuel was tonsured a monk by Archbishop Averky at Holy Trinity Monastery and given the name Constantine. Two months later, on the feast of the Kursk Icon of the Sign, he was consecrated Bishop of Brisbane. In the customary speech at his consecration, the new bishop described what had motivated him to dedicate himself to the service of the Church:

      "In answering this question, I cannot fail to recall the early years of my childhood, when my unforgettable nanny, who had also raised my father, placed in my receptive soul -- simply, but with love -- the first seeds of holy faith and piety. It was she who taught me to go to church and to love it. She often showed me a large Bible. I could scarcely tear myself away from it. It was also she who related to me Lives of the saints, and in such a lively and engaging manner. I would try to imitate them, denying myself many childish pleasures. God grant her the Kingdom of Heaven! Of course, my good parents also planted in my soul lofty impulses, teaching me to be a good Christian -- not just in word but in deed."

      In Australia, Bishop Constantine encountered many difficulties which finally compelled him to return to America. In 1978 he was made Vicar Bishop of Eastern America and New York. Three years later he was sent to shepherd the flock of Great Britain. His ascetic practices and the raw climate undermined his already poor health -- he suffered from pernicious anemia, a heart condition and bad arthritis --and in 1985 he returned to the United States to live in retirement. He spent summers at the Kursk Hermitage in Mahopac, New York, but the winters there were hard on his health, and in 1991 he moved to Christ of the Hills Monastery in Texas. Not only was the climate there suitable, but he was uplifted by the many visitors and pilgrims, and by the monks' readiness to learn from his monastic experience and his thorough knowledge of the services.

       Vladika Constantine was a true ascetic; he ate and slept very little. The monks noticed that the light in Vladika's cell would go on about 12:30 a.m., when he would get up to perform his rule of prayer. At about 2.'00 a.m. they regularly saw his bobbing flashlight as Vladika rnade the rounds of the monks' cells, praying and spreading God's blessing upon the sleeping occupants. In his last years, Vladika Constantine acquired the gift of compunction. He would often weep unaffectedly in receiving the Holy Mysteries.

       After a brief struggle with pneumonia, Bishop Constantine peacefully reposed as the monks around him read, at his request, the Prayers for the Departure of the Soul. His un-embalmed body lay in the church surrounded by Pentecost flowers for two days, without any sign of decomposition or rigor mortis. Those who had gathered for the occasion could not help but draw special significance from the Kneeling Prayers read on the eve of the funeral: "There is, therefore, no death for Thy servant, when we leave the body and come unto Thee, our God, but a translation from things most saddening unto things most beneficial and most delightful, and unto repose and joy." Bishop Constantine was buried after Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Holy Spirit, which this year coincided with the feast of Saints Constantine and Helen.
Sources: an Obituary prepared by the monks of Christ of the Hills Monastery, and a memorial article in Pravoslavnaya Rus', Jordanville: No. 14, 1996.

Orthodox America issue #141 July 1996

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