In a few days, a delegation of bishops and clergymen of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, headed by its First Hierarch, His Eminence Metropolitan Laurus of Eastern America and New York, will travel to Moscow to participate in the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Rossiiskaya Gazeta: This will be your first visit to Russia in your new capacity as primate of ROCOR. How do you feel about your trip to the Capital?
Metropolitan Hilarion: This is by far not my first trip to the capital of Russia, but now, preparing to go to Moscow, having assumed the duties of the First Hierarch abroad, I have a heightened sense of anxiety and a feeling of responsibility before our flock as I participate in the work of the Council together with the entire Russian Church. It is important to see how able we are to express mutual love and understanding in our efforts to be members of one indivisible church organism.
RG: What problems do you intend to call attention to in your report to the Council of Bishops, which will concentrate on matters on the Christian view of human rights and freedom, and matters of ecclesiastical jurisprudence?
Metropolitan Hilarion: At the present time I am not so concerned with drawing attention with my report to the Council as much as I am with delving into the essence of the challenges set before this eminent council of hierarchs for their joint deliberation. At the same time we are given the opportunity to acquaint the Council, and through it Russian Orthodox society as a whole, with the particularities of Orthodox existence and church life abroad.
Within the atmosphere of the unity of faith and church traditions, there are particularities dictated by the various political and cultural environs in which, through historical circumstances, Orthodoxy found itself abroad.
RG: On the day of your election as the head of the Russian Church Abroad, you declared that ROCOR “awaits the brothers and sisters who have left us with open arms.” How difficult do you deem the dual challenge of continuing the reunification of the two parts of the Russian Local Church?
Metropolitan Hilarion: I feel the challenge of internal reunification which exists in my term as Primate, but, relying on the will of God and His inscrutable plan, I understand my duty, for this is suggested by the times, for, as the Pastor Hermas said, the tower is the Church, and the stones of which it is built are the faithful.
RG: The second year after the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion has begun. How is the reunification of the sister Churches progressing?
Metropolitan Hilarion: The reunification of the two parts of the Church is indeed a process of healing wounds inflicted by the bloody years of the persecution of the Church. This process has been going on for a long time now in a wide variety of ways, but officially, it surfaces as you see it now. The Russian Orthodox Church in exile, as she called herself, always considered herself a branch of one trunk, but political circumstances prevailed, and this was our common pain during the years of division.
Now our hopes have been answered. The problem remains, however, that not everyone has grasped the ripe need for our joint service, since here in the West, the problems of ecumenism are more keenly felt that in Russia.
Our parishioners, having been raised in Orthodox families, see this ecumenical virus as fatal for the Church’s “immune system” and, therefore, are extremely wary of the policy of cooperation with the World Council of Churches. It is the problem of clearing away spiritual boundaries within the Church and not unification with the Church in the Homeland that is one of the main reasons of mistrust and conflict in our community.
RG: What is the Russian Church Abroad today? How common are the problems you face in church life with those your brethren deal with in Russia?
Metropolitan Hilarion: The Russian Church Abroad is still called the Church in exile everywhere. She found herself in foreign lands and had to survive in circumstances where sometimes there were customs and cultural values opposed to those of our homeland of Holy Russia. Our problem is not in the number of our flock, but in its national and class variety. Every parish is faced with language problems, not so much in their interrelations, but in divine service. Russians, for instance, love the church service in the lyrical Church Slavonic language. In this poesy they commune with the lofty truths of Orthodoxy.
And although non-Russian parishioners also love our heartwarming singing, it would be ill-considered to demand that everyone learn Church Slavonic or even Russian. Our parishes sometimes take the appearance of the United Nations in their ethnic composition. As far as the common challenges we face with the Moscow Patriarchate, these are Orthodox education and the preservation of Holy Tradition through preaching and theological development.
Within the new framework of church unity, of a living bond with Russia, I hope, will strengthen our church life. One hopes that our experience will also help Russia.