The First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, who participated in the Council of Bishops and Local Council [Pomestny Sobor] of the Russian Orthodox Church, was interviewed by Aleksei Senin, Editor-in-Chief of Russkiy Vestnik and Anatoly Stepanov, Editor-in-Chief of Russkaya Liniya on February 2, 2009.
– Your Eminence, what can you say about the election of Metropolitan Kirill as the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia?
– Everything in life happens by Providence. It is accepted in the Church that people will have different opinions. So during this Local Council, various candidates were proposed for the post of the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church. But the Lord, through His hierarchs, through the people of the Church, expressed His will. Metropolitan Kirill became the Patriarch of our Church. It is possible that some do not like that choice, but the Lord has revealed who is to guide the ship of the Church. God gave His Holiness Patriarch Kirill many talents, he is very gifted and firm in spirit. I think that it is just this type of Patriarch that we need today. I do not know if anyone else could manage to bear such a heavy cross.
– As the Council of Bishops and Local Council were being organized, an opinion surfaced that the Local Council, as an institution, should be eliminated, since there are no questions that the Council of Bishops cannot decide itself. It was said that the Local Council, in the old days, was the Council of Bishops itself, and the invitation of clergy and laity to the council was a token gesture towards democratic sentiments. What do you think, does the Russian Orthodox Church need a Pomestny Sobor? Are there questions in church life that need deliberation by such a Sobor?
– I think that the Pomestny Sobor is important for the Church. For us, it is manifested in the form of an All-Diaspora Council, which we convene to discuss questions on which we need to hear the voice of the clergy and the people. But these Councils are advisory in character. Its decisions are confirmed (or not confirmed) by the Council of Bishops. This is the case, in my opinion, with the Pomestny Sobor, as well. Of course, it should be carefully organized, especially for such a massive entity as the Russian Orthodox Church. As you know, the Pomestny Sobor of 1917-1918 took a long time to prepare, over the course of years. That is why the Pre-Council meeting proposed by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill is so important, for many questions can be discussed there, matters of concern to the people. Broad strata of Orthodox believers can participate, and their voices will of course be heard. Such a standing Pre-Council committee would be a good way to prepare for the Councils of Bishops and Local Councils.
– Please tell us about your service as First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad. What problems have you had to face?
– The duties of the Primate of the Russian Church Abroad is not as difficult as those of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia. I have become aware of how difficult an obedience this is over recent days, when I participated in first in the Council of Bishops, then in the Pomestny Sobor of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The parishes of our Church are located in many countries and are organized by diocese. In this situation, the duties of a Primate possess a unifying character, and part of this responsibility is to coordinate the work of the bishops and clergymen through convening meetings of the Synod of Bishops, other meetings such as the All-Diaspora Councils, which fulfills the function of a sort of Pomestny Sobor of the Church Abroad. It is with this goal that the Primate must make personal visits to the dioceses.
When I inherited the Diocese of Eastern America and New York, which is the home of the First Hierarch of ROCOR, since our Synod is located in New York, I inherited some problems as well. Among these are troubles on the parish level, the need for clergymen, the opening of new communities, maintaining the Synod building, which is around 100 years old and needs significant capital renovation. But these are all external cares, the main thing is to preserve the spiritual wholeness of the people, to battle assimilation, that is, to keep the young people within Orthodox Christianity, so that they do not succumb to the influence of various—especially worldly—tendencies. These all comprise our archpastoral duties, but for me most of all as Primate of the Church Abroad.
– How do you rate the possibility of overcoming the discord that has arisen in the ROCOR after the reunification of the Russian Church?
– One can only overcome conflicts through prayer, and only time will help heal wounds. With time, people will come to see that the Russian Orthodox Church is alive, that it is growing strong and developing. We cannot fail to see this, but unfortunately, many of those who rejected the reunification of the Church do not wish to see this, they are wearing blinders, preserving in their hearts the convictions that held sway during the so-called Cold War. They were in many ways justifiable, because during the reign of the Soviet Union, the Church was not free. They do not want to believe that these are different times, and different circumstances, and that the country is different, that the Church has full freedom of action.
At the same time one cannot ignore their assertion that the Russian Orthodox Church is not benefiting from its participation in the World Council of Churches. This is their main argument, which prevents them from accepting the reunification of the Church Abroad and the Church in the Fatherland.
– What is your opinion on the matter?
– We are gladdened by the words of His Holiness that he will examine this matter, as he announced at the Pomestny Sobor. He said that all matters which cause the Church any anxiety should be thoroughly examined from a theological point of view in order to find a resolution to correct the matter in accordance with Church tradition on ecclesiastical purity. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill stressed this. Citing a letter he received, he said that the matter of the World Council of Churches must be theologically studied, and there is a need to finally decide it in the spirit of Orthodoxy so that there would be no need to return to this question anymore.
– During the course of the unifying processes, it was noticed that the ROCOR preserved the experience of the pre-Revolutionary form of parish life and that it would be good to pass it on to the Church in the Fatherland. What is being done in this regard?
– I don't think that there is any systematic way to pass on our experience. I remember the visit of the Prior of Sretensky Monastery, Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov) with his choir and other priests. They told us that they were amazed at the good order in our parishes, especially in Australia, how we have church schools, how vibrant our parish life is. Speaking of pre-revolutionary traditions, one must remember that the Church is a living organism, the conciliar experience of all of the members of the community in parish life is important. During the Soviet period, laypersons did not have the opportunity to participate in church life, which was limited to the celebration of divine services by the clergymen. In the Church Abroad, we preserved what existed before the Revolution. Priests constantly visited the homes of their parishioners, they knew their lives, because they would come to them for confession, for advice, priests were invited to perform services of need. Of course, abroad, where parishes are not that large as in the Fatherland, this was easier to do. But the main thing is that priests must call upon the parishioners to more actively participate in parish life. I think that all of this is happening more often in Russia, I am convinced of this on the basis of what I read, see and hear about the Fatherland.
– Many people are concerned with the threat of autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. We fear that this would lead to ecclesiastical strife and schisms. Your predecessor as First Hierarch of the ROCOR, Metropolitan Laurus, who was a Rusin by birth, devoted a great deal of time to this matter. What can you do personally, and the Russian Church Abroad as a whole, to strengthen ecclesiastical unity, to bolster the ties between Moscow and Kiev?
– My roots are in Ukraine. I am deeply troubled that the call for autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church might once again arise. In our experience abroad, where Russians, Ukrainians, Belarussians and members of the local population who have adopted Orthodoxy, all coexist, shows that Orthodox believers are not prone to division by nationality, by skin color, by race. My parents always felt that Great Russians, Ukrainians and Belarussions are the triune people of Holy Rus.
– Vladyka, please tell us about yourself.
– I was born and raised in Canada, where we had sort of a "Little Ukraine." I did not speak Russian until 19, when I began to study at Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY. There I became first a novice, then ordained a deacon by Archbishop Averky (Taushev), and later Metropolitan (then-Bishop) Laurus ordained by to the priesthood. My main obedience was to set type at the printing house. I set linotype, then computer text in two languages, English and Russian. At the end of 1984, I was transferred to New York and consecrated to the episcopacy. I had the title Bishop of Manhattan and served as Vicar to Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky). After the election of Metropolitan Vitaly as First Hierarch of ROCOR, I spent over 10 years with him (before his retirement). In 1996, I was appointed to the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand, where I remained until last year. As First Hierarch, I was appointed to the Diocese of Eastern America and New York, but I remain the Ruling Bishop of the Australian Diocese, which I will continue to be until we find a vicar bishop.