The Editors-in-Chief of the magazine Tribuna russkoj mysli [Tribune of Russian Thought], Alexander Bondarev, and of the information agency Russkaja linija [Russian Line], Anataly Stepanov, interviewed His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Kapral) of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
- The first visit to Russia of the main holy icon of the Russian Diaspora, and of the Russian people, the miracle-working Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign” is planned for September. How do you view the importance of this event for the life of the Russian emigration and the Russian Orthodox Church?
- I believe this has a great deal of significance. The Kursk-Root Icon left the Russian land along with the wave of the White Emigration in 1920. Among those who were forced to leave Russia were 30 bishops, many clergymen, and also thousands and thousands of Russians of various classes. We know that there were attempts to destroy the Kursk-Root Icon: the first time when a terrible blast shook Kursk Cathedral, the second time when it was stolen, the valuable riza was removed, and the icon itself was thrown down a well. It was a great joy when the holy icon was found again, but Archbishop Feofan of Kursk and Oboyan feared that another attempt would be made to destroy it, and so he took it south, after which it found itself in the emigration, where it remains to this day.
The Kursk-Root Icon is considered to be our guide; we call her our “Hodigitria.” It was always the symbol of our 90 years outside of the Fatherland, since the revolution. The tradition developed that the icon never remains in one place for long, but constantly travels, visiting different continents, all the dioceses of the Russian Church Abroad. It visits not only the parishes of these dioceses, but homes, hospitals, everywhere it is needed, where people earnestly pray before it. It is well known that even before arriving in the Diaspora, through the prayers of the Mother of God, a multitude of miracles occurred before the icon. They continue to occur to this day.
That is why today, after the reunification of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, its first visit to Russia is so important. It is a symbol of the reconciliation, a sign of the protection of the Mother of God over the entire Russian Orthodox world. I am sure that its visit will be a great joy for the Russian people living in Russia.
- After the Russian exodus, with a great multitude of people emigrating, Orthodox churches were built abroad, educational and military institutions were recreated. Political organizations were also created. The Russian emigration had a specific mission. What is the mission of the Russian emigration today? Has the political meaning of the Russian diaspora disappeared? How do you envision its future?
- I think that for the first decades, the emigration had a more political mood, though not completely. The people in the emigration hoped that the Bolshevik regime would be defeated, that they could soon return to their homeland. That is why so many political and military organizations were established. But the years passed, the aspirations of the Russian people for the quick end to the Bolshevik expansionism were not fulfilled, and gradually the emigres began to establish their lives with a great hope of returning to their native land in the future. At the time it was impossible, so they built churches, established monasteries, set up spiritual and cultural centers to preserve their faith and traditions, so that they could pass them on to their progeny; they tried to prevent the assimilation of Russian society abroad.
But with each passing decade, the political aspect of the emigration waned. The many political and social organizations in Europe and America—and there were dozens of these—gradually disappeared. Only the Russian Orthodox Church remained. That is why the people are grasping more and more the specifically spiritual meaning of the emigration. As St John of Shanghai, whom we quote often, remarked: “By Divine Providence, the diaspora emerged in order that the light of Orthodoxy would shine throughout the world.”
Following the revolution in Russia, the situation changed drastically throughout the countries of Europe where Orthodox Christians lived. For instance, the Greeks were expelled from Turkey, and many emigrated from Greece. The Balkans also suffered from communism. These political upheavals also caused an Orthodox exodus. Emigre communities began to form everywhere. The fates of various national Orthodox groups began to intertwine. All the emigres began building their own churches. Now the Orthodox faith is not only that of Russians, Greeks, Bulgarians and Serbs but it is the faith of many local, native populations. Orthodox Christianity is especially blossoming in America, we have many genuine Americans who accept Holy Orthodoxy, and there are instances when entire Anglican parishes and other Christian denominations adopted Orthodoxy. Today we can state with confidently that the emigration has an important spiritual missionary goal which the Lord prescribed for His glory.
- Vladyka, over two years have passed since the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion. As we know, the process of reunification was complicated. A whole series of parishes of the Russian Church Abroad departed, refusing to accept this Act. Of course, you often travel throughout the parishes and dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. What has changed over this time? Are there any positive tendencies towards healing this schism, is their hope that those who fled will return?
- In some parishes they are noticing that those who had left are gradually coming back. True, these are generally not clergymen—it is more difficult for them to return—but the parishioners. They saw that no radical changes occurred in the Church, except for the joy stemming from the sense that we are a part of the great Russian Orthodox Church. I think that we must have a loving and understanding attitude towards those who left. They did not leave because they disagreed with Orthodox teaching, but because they had an erroneous concept of the danger of reconciliation today. They say that they are not opposed to, but in fact support, the unity of the Russian Church, but they have little trust right now. That is why I think we must treat them with patience and without condemnation. Of course, we must have canonical order. Maybe some left for personal reasons. But most of the people who left were simply confused. Especially the laypersons who for decades held certain beliefs, and the process of reconciliation happened fairly quickly, and so many were not prepared. But I would like to note that the number of people who left is not that significant. Of course, for the Church, every soul is a treasure, that is why we pray that the Lord grant them wisdom, that He give them the understanding that a unified Russian Church is a powerful spiritual force, that being together benefits us all. This work pleases God.
- Vladyka, we know that you exert a great deal of effort towards returning those who left. You often meet with them, spend time with them. In your experience, what is the formal reason for leaving? What do they consider the main reason for leaving?
- Those who spoke out in opposition mostly pointed to the membership of the Moscow Patriarchate in the World Council of Churches. This is the main reason. One priest in Australia said “what they call ‘Sergianism’ has long died out” but what worries him is the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in the WCC, he is even troubled by its mere formal membership. Now we see that the participation of the Russian Church in the WCC is almost non-existent today, it is almost meaningless. But many are still genuinely troubled by this.
Another reason is that these are not very educated people, they are isolated, they know little of life in Russia and they think that communism might return. They are motivated not by any long-term views, but some sort of fear.
- It is often said that the main treasure of the Russian Church Abroad is the preservation of the pre-revolutionary traditions in which the Russian Church lived for centuries. Now the Russian Church in Russia is being born anew: churches are being built, priests are being ordained, seminaries are opening, the churches are filling with people. But the lack of social and parish life is a serious problem. There is no one to learn from, nowhere to learn it. There were many discussions of creating some sort of mechanism for transferring the experience of the Russian Church Abroad, but as we see, there is no such mechanism. Why not? How can we arrange such a transfer of experience?
- Achieving something like that is very difficult to do by appointing a committee [smiling].
I think that our experience may be somewhat exaggerated. Of course there are certain aspects of it that I can point out, but they are in part created by our daily life. For instance, in each of our communities, people are close to one another, but that is because our parishes are often small. People are used to socializing with each other, but it is difficult to do that in Russia, in big parishes, where thousands of people worship, and it becomes difficult to get to know one another. But in Russia, this is beginning to change. As far as I know, in Russia, parishioners often share teach after services, they organize common meals on Sundays and holidays, they spend time with the clergy. This serves to bring people together.
Before, in Russia, many churches were built by magnates and merchants, but in the Diaspora, people had to build churches themselves, on their own budgets, with their own hands. That is why people here are used to acting independently and taking responsibility. Such parishes operated under the so-called Normal Parish By-Laws, in which the responsibilities of the rector, the parish council and the warden are defined. We also have something that Russia has been without for a long time, but is being reintroduced now—a spiritual court.
I would like to bring your attention to an important thing that makes us different. The language of the emigration in many ways preserves the form which existed in old Russia, and the Russian language evolved differently. We lived and continue to live under very different circumstances.
But I know that the Orthodox faith and the Church in Russia are blossoming very quickly and magnificently. There are probably things that can be improved, for instance, the proximity of the bishops to the people, to their flock. I understand that every bishop in Russia has hundreds or even thousands of parishes, so he cannot tend to them all. That is why, I assume, the bishop is very distant from his flock. But the bishop, as a father of his flock, must be close to his people. I see that His Holiness Patriarch Kirill is doing great work, that, discussing and educating the people, he draws people closer. They are getting to know him, they listen to his sermons. This consoles people and brings them together. Every bishop, in his own diocese, to the extent he is able, should try to draw his flock close to him, participating in the life of each parish and of each individual.
- Vladyka, the Russian Church Abroad emerged as a result of the Civil War. The war divided the Russian people into two parts, two branches. Even today, no one signed any peace pact or treaty in this war. Do you think that the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion and the rapprochement between the Churches will contribute towards the coming together of these two branches of the Russian people? For you said yourself that the branch that fled Russia developed in a different direction. The two branches of the Russian people are separating more and more. How do we unite them now?
- There is no one to sign such a document on our side. We have almost no political organizations anymore. That is why the Church must reconcile everyone. But I think that the people today—the new generation—does not harbor animosity. On the contrary, everyone is happy that communism fell, that Russia has freedom of religion. And what happened in the past—revolution, suffering for 70 years, which the Lord allowed to occur—are already a part of history. Now the Holy Tsar-Martyr Nicholas and the Host of New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia unite us all. I think that in general, there was no rift among Orthodox people, there was a political rift, but the faith remained one and the same. Although the episcopate both Abroad and in Russia could not maintain contact during the Soviet era because of pressure from the godless regime, this was only temporary. We all understood that the faith was being persecuted, so we had a sense of empathy with the Russian people. I think that the reunification of the Church led to reconciliation. Political trends are temporary, they quickly evaporate, but the faith remains forever.
- Vladyka, we know that there are conversations with the Orthodox Church in America now. What is the direction they will be taking? What decisions might we expect with regard to the relationship between ROCOR and the OCA?
- Upon reconciliation between the Russian Church Abroad and the Russian Orthodox Church in the Fatherland, the question arose about our relationship with the Orthodox Church in America, which had received autocephaly from the Moscow Patriarchate. At one time we were together, but divisions occurred twice. In 1924, Metropolitan Platon separated from the Russian bishops who were abroad, but in 1935, Metropolitan Theophilus, with the intercession of Patriarch Varnava of Serbia, made peace with ROCOR, and there was again one Russian Church in America. This continued until 1946, when there was not only a break with the Church Abroad, but with the Moscow Patriarchate. The Orthodox Metropoliate of America became, de facto, independent.
We would like to improve relations with the Orthodox Church in America, so our Synod of Bishops appointed a commission comprised of several clergymen who, we hope, will meet with a similar commission representing the OCA in order to study our common history. We must determine why divisions occurred, how we can restore Eucharistic communion. Nonetheless, we do not intend on merging with the Orthodox Church in America, only establish brotherly, prayerful relations. For many in our Church Abroad, the new calendar, which the OCA adopted, is unacceptable. This is a painful question, because many of our clergymen and laypersons would not wish to participate in a service where ecclesio-liturgical order is violated. So there are things that need to be discussed.
We welcome the election of the new head of the OCA, Metropolitan Jonah, who is known for his piety, he loves the old calendar, he loves order in the Church. So we hope that good relations with the Orthodox Church in America can be established.
- Vladyka, many are now discussing the need for convening a Pan-Orthodox conference. For a great many unresolved problems have developed between the Orthodox Churches, which should be discussed together. At the same time, there are rumors among the people of the Church that this must be something like an 8th Ecumenical Council, that such an assembly would make decisions of a renovationist character: moving to the new calendar, etc. What is your view on the idea of convening a Pan-Orthodox conference, and the fears surrounding it?
- There are many questions of a general nature in the life of the Local Orthodox Churches which need mutual resolutions, and the Churches must have such means of communication. We sometimes have controversies with the Constantinople Patriarchate, which views the diaspora differently than the Russian Orthodox Church does. The Ecumenical Patriarch, of course, must be honored for his historical place in the hierarchy of the Local Churches as first among equals, but there cannot be universal authority with only one bishop in the Orthodox Church.
The universal character of the council is determined by the fullness of the Church only afterwards. As far as an 8th Ecumenical Council is concerned, I feel that one is necessary. Ecumenical Councils were always convened to defend the Church against all sorts of heresies which arose at one time or another. We must have a great deal of spiritual strength to preserve the pureness of the faith. In this regard, there can be no political reasons to gather such a council.
- Vladyka, lately the external assault by the atheist world on the Church is becoming more apparent. The European Union in its constitution refused to recognize the Christian foundations of the European culture. Parades of sodomites are becoming a sad reality in our day. In connection with this, much is said about the need for joint action by the Orthodox Church with the Catholic Church in the battle for morality. But naturally, the fair question arises about the limits of interrelationships and the boundaries of joint action. Unfortunately, the idea of “sister churches” is tossed around, which evokes bafflement and indignation among Orthodox believers. What do you think the forms of cooperation with Catholics should take today?
- Our bishops, at one of their Councils, discussed this matter and reached the conclusion that in matters of charity and social care we can cooperate with members of other Christian confessions. But we can have no cooperation in prayer or divine services. I think that today, in light of the global moral crisis, the Russian Church can hope for joint action with the Catholic Church, which preserved certain traditions of Christian morality. In this matter, of course, we can work with them.
We deem unacceptable the concept of “sister churches.” The teachings of the Catholic Church are completely unacceptable for us, especially with regard to the dogmatic teachings of the place the Roman bishop holds in the Church. There are other differences as well. But in social matters, for the sake of the people, we can and must work together.
- Even under Metropolitan Vitaly, you headed the Russian Orthodox Youth Committee. Now all one needs to do is visit Jordanville to see that more than half of the seminarians are not from America. How do you see the future preparation of clergymen and youth mission in the Church Abroad?
- This is a difficult question. The young people who grow up here, conduct their studies in English, and in other countries in their local languages. But what happens is that whatever language you study in becomes your natural language. That is why our youth have a poor knowledge of Russian. Only a small percentage of Russian youth know the language, those who were able to study in parish schools, who earnestly desired to study their native tongue. Most of them either know the language poorly or not at all. This is especially noticeable among the new emigres, whose children assimilate more quickly that those of the old emigres, who tried to preserve and maintain their traditions. New emigres try to quickly merge into the lives of the countries they live in.
So in order for us not to lose this enormous mass of young people, we must use the Russian, English and other local languages. For instance, our youth conferences are all held in the local, mostly English, languages. In the summer camps (Russkije sokoly, Vityazi), of course, they try to maintain the Russian language, but still, the children speak among themselves in the languages of the society in which they live and study, and we must take that into consideration. We must explain our faith in the language the youth understands. That is why there is a need abroad to use both the Church Slavonic and the local language in divine services. We see how many people are lost to the Church, because they do not understand Slavonic. Many people in Russia may not understand this.
In our Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, they teach in Russian. But many young people, especially Orthodox Americans, have difficulty understanding Russian. To learn Russian in order to study in seminary is very hard. Very few are able to do this today.
Of course, there are fortunate exceptions, for instance, Bishop George, Bishop Jerome, the late Fr Seraphim Rose. But the vast majority cannot force themselves to learn Russian. Russian is very hard to master. So many seminarians have a difficult time understanding lectures, so few students enroll. I think that the seminary should teach in two languages, because the flock of our clergymen will be mixed.
- The Church is where there is a bishop, divine services can only be performed by clergymen, but the Church is composed of the laity, upon whom much depends. What would you wish for our Orthodox laity, Orthodox journalists? We ask, Vladyka, to len your guidance with us and our readers.
- The most important thing in our faith is our inner life. If we pay attention only to the external, the “cover of the book,” and do not bring order to our souls, if we do not have a close relationship with the Lord, then all that is external will be of no use.
Our goal is the salvation of souls, and everyone must tend to this first and foremost. If we pray more, if we struggle to obey the laws, then not only will we work towards our salvation and approach God, but our Church and our people will become stronger, will regain health. Everyone who comes to Christ cannot do this because it is fashionable, for appearance’s sake. If we conduct our spiritual podvig and prepare our souls for the grace of God, for communion with the Lord, if we pray together, then the entire country will heal. Every one of us must tend to our souls first of all.
- May the Lord save you, Vladyka, for this informative and interesting discussion.