Vladyka Hilarion: The Russian Orthodox Church
Can Leave the World Council of Churches
The hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, led by their newly-elected First Hierarch, Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, took part for the first time in the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church, which met last week. During one of the intervals between sessions, Metropolitan Hilarion gave an exclusive interview to RIA News. Andrei Zolotov spoke with him.
—Vladyka, in your report here on the first day of the Council you emphasized that it was your first time here, and that, therefore, much was new and incomprehensible to you. Nearly three days of the Council have passed. What are your impressions and feelings now?
—Firstly, this is a joy because we, the hierarchs from abroad, are sharing such fellowship with our brethren. Of course, we are not acquainted with many of them. But I think that many of the Russian hierarchs also do not know one another, because of the fact that many have been consecrated only relatively recently. This is a joy because we are working together and are able to learn more about the life and administration of the Church here, of those problems that exist here, and those problems that are common to the whole Church. The feelings that arise when we make the acquaintance of hierarchs and converse with them, when we discover such brotherly love and understanding, move us to compunction. We see that these men, whom we did not know except from one remove, learning of them from photographs or one news item or another, are quite remarkable. And now we share a fraternal fellowship. This is an edifying process.
—You said in your report that you are not removing from the agenda the question of the withdrawal of the Russian Orthodox Church from the World Council of Churches. Were there any deliberations regarding this, either in the working groups or in the anterooms of the cathedral?
—There has still been no official discussion. But many hierarchs have approached and expressed their agreement with this; they were gratified that this question was brought up. And really, the people of God are everywhere awaiting this. It would ease our position considerably abroad, where many—clergy and laity—have gone into schism because of this very question. If membership in the World Council of Churches is reconsidered—perhaps we could have observers there as does the Roman Catholic Church—this would probably have a positive affect upon the attitude of many people who feel that past participation in the World Council of Churches and other similar cases of ecumenical interaction have passed the bounds of what is permissible. If this could be corrected, it would be a great joy for the whole Church.
We must not fear that our witness to Orthodoxy will be in any way diminished. On the contrary, when people see that the Orthodox Faith is confessed in our people's life, it will attract them. That our Church changes nothing, that it continues the apostolic, patristic teaching and all the Traditions of the Church—this is precisely what attracts people in the West away from Protestantism and Catholicism. They see that the Church does not alter its doctrine or its practice depending on modern trends; rather, everything that was set forth by the Savior and the apostles is maintained in Orthodoxy. It is because of this that people come to Orthodoxy. And this will continue in even greater measure, because in contemporary Protestant churches, and in Catholicism itself, the falling-away has been great.
—Speaking of the growth of Orthodoxy, the question of missionary activity has also been raised at the Council. You have your own experience of mission amid the non-Russian-speaking, heterodox milieu. What, in your view, is important for mission in the modern world?
—Firstly, what is needed is internal mission. We need to return our Russian people to Orthodoxy—those who have yet to receive Holy Baptism, who still have not come to faith. This is an immense task. And our objective in the West is similar, because we must first work with our own flock. With our youth, when there are mixed marriages among them, for example. In that case it can happen that they gradually drift away from the Church. Perhaps the husband or the wife will convert to Orthodoxy, but often this does not have a lasting, positive affect. Assimilation is also a great problem. For this reason, we are working with our youth, to strengthen them in the Church. But we also bear witness to those outside. We are always ready to receive them if they have a sincere intention to come to Orthodoxy. We prepare them, we lead them through the process of catechesis, and then we receive them—either through Holy Baptism, or sometimes through Chrismation.
It is not our practice, as it is among certain religious groups, to go from door to door, etc. No. People learn about Orthodoxy from literature, from their friends, through family contacts, through religious publications. People come by various routes.
—Even before your election as First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia you traveled to Latin America, trying to bring back those who had gone into schism. What today is the situation of those who went into schism from the Russian Church Outside of Russia after the reunification with the Moscow Patriarchate.
—In Latin America there has as yet been no progress. There are not many clergy there; only several priests in a few countries, such as Brazil, Argentina and Chile, for example, have left. I spoke with them all. They told me why they felt compelled to leave. Of course, they were isolated. Their bishop died several years ago, and we were unable to find a replacement for him immediately. Now there is a bishop [a new bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was consecrated for Latin America literally on the eve of the Council of Bishops—RIA News], but prior to this there was no archpastoral oversight in situ. And they felt that the questions they raised received no response. I think that this happened because they were ill informed. And perhaps their isolation tended to preserve old concepts, understandings of the past, when the hierarchs here in Russia were objects of mistrust. Perhaps because they had no opportunity to visit Russia and see the change that had taken place here, that the Church is entirely free. But the question of ecumenism is disturbing to many. In Australia also, those who departed pointed precisely to the fact that the Moscow Patriarchate belongs to the World Council of Churches. This is the main reason why they left.
—Vladyka, experience here in Russia shows that the same people who have protested membership in the World Council of Churches are the ones who are pushing for the canonization of Ivan the Terrible, etc.
—Of course there are extremes. But I am speaking about ordinary parishioners who are troubled by this. There are people who will never be satisfied and will always seek reasons for this. But they do not constitute a significant part of the faithful.