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Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern American and New York: “We Must Go to God”

 

— Your Eminence, you were born and raised on the North American continent, in a secular society, where, as many Russian Orthodox Christians think, church life is being extinguished, where the main values are idols: money, success and comfort, and where spirituality and fear of God are not priorities. At the same time, Western society lives on, is developing with its own powers of growth. In this regard, what do you think is greater in today’s secular society: the materialization of everything, or on the contrary, efforts at spirituality, though we see everywhere around us that the material is crushing the spiritual world more and more? This doesn’t only concern the West, but Russia, unfortunately, is also on the path towards this apostasy.

It’s hard to say. In any case, the “powers of growth” of the West are apparent. In fact, the West suffers from spiritual bankruptcy. That is why many mistakenly turn to their own weaknesses or passions for consolation, or to the Christian faith. The former, sadly, are in error, the latter are upon the right path. Apostle Paul cautioned that many believers will not turn to God, will not come to Church, because people will not see in us true Christians who shine with Christ’s beauty and His sanctity; who would plant the Kingdom of Heaven in “this adulterous and sinful generation.” In our parishes and monasteries they likely don’t find people who are living, persuasive witnesses of the Gospel. Indeed, if we look at our lives, we would see that the life of an Orthodox Christian, unfortunately, is far from Christian teaching.

That is why we must look not upon others but into ourselves and blame today’s  heavy spiritual state of society not on the “powerful of this world,” not on the West, or the apostasy happening before our eyes, but our own selves.

— Today we see the threat of a coming punishment from God for all mankind for its sins: tsunamis and earthquakes everywhere, droughts and fires, failed harvests and floods, before which mankind is helpless. All this should give us pause, should make us think: where is the world, where is humanity heading? But people are striving more and more for wealth, which gives rise to global and local conflicts, wars in which not only material things we all fight to obtain are destroyed, but people die, even children, that is, our future. What can we do? How can we save people from these passions?

— Elemental calamities are in no way signs that God is rejecting us. On the contrary, such catastrophes, diseases and all sorts of conflicts which arise by the will of mankind, permitted for one reason or another by God, can become unique opportunities for spiritual growth, as we obtain experience in trusting God, through selfless service to one’s neighbor, humility and patience. God can through various common misfortunes teach us to live for the sake of others, to empathize with their troubles or give us the opportunity to serve as examples of faith and patience to our neighbors. That is why I think we should always frame the question properly, not “for what” does the Lord send us troubles, but “to what end,” for what spiritual benefit to us or to others will the calamity have served?

How can mankind be saved from their passions? St Ignatius (Brianchaninov) said that it is not worth trying to stop the course of events “with our own weak hands.” So we need to begin with ourselves, to try to introduce Christ’s world into our relationships, to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God through humble prayer, example of good life and inner peace within our conscience.

— Things are worse when wars arise for religious reasons, for example the long conflict accompanied by acts of terrorism and armed battles: between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland; in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990’s and today in the Arab worlds and Afghanistan, who fight not only along ethnic lines but on religious grounds. What is the true reason for these calamities, how do we escape such tragedies?

— The true reason for these troubles are pride, ignorance, the absence of love for one’s neighbor and the lack of a “royal path” in approaching people and various problems in society. The solution is given to us by St Abba Dorotheos, who demonstrated by drawing a circle. In the center of the circle is God. Along the perimeter are we humans. How are we to draw nearer to each other? Each of us must move towards the center, towards God. The closer we approach, the nearer we are to each other, too. Let each of us begin to tend to our inner world, creating peace with our conscience, that is, establishing our personal life in concord with life with God. Striving towards this peace, and achieving it, we try to develop peace and unity in society.

— We know that the world “culture” and “cult” have a common root, which is no accident, but one would hope that everything that relates to culture would contain not only esthetic value but a strong spiritual basis. High culture cannot but reflect the spiritual wealth which God implanted in humanity and society. Unfortunately, in today’s world, the bulk of the cultural world is occupied by anti-culture, a certain anti-world, having no relation to Christian values, or with spirituality. It has gotten to the point that many members of secularized society speaks out openly against Christian symbolism in public spaces, the streets, schools and other institutions. They vandalize Christian sites, not only in the West but in our Russia. How do you explain this? Where does this hatred come from? The absence of true culture, Christian education, the loss of moral pointers, the consequences of idol-worship, materialization, permissiveness, or are things more complicated than that? 

— I have endless sympathy for those who struggle against the faith and blaspheme the Church. I think that this happens for various reasons. On one hand, evil is actively at work in this world in its struggle against good, on the other hand, you and I, as already noted, have proved insufficiently Christian. I pray that the Lord impart the sense of reason and gave guidance to all blasphemers, and that we all become good Christians, inspiring others to serve God and man, to seek salvation in God, salvation from evil and passions. But praying alone is not enough. One must try to live and act in accordance with our prayers.

If we speak the words of prayer “Lord, help me become good,” then we must actively strive for such goodness.

I remember a profoundly personal prayer which was read during the consecration to the episcopacy of Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev), who had been tonsured by Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky), and who became successor of St John (Maximovich) to the San Francisco cathedra. As the mystery of his episcopal consecration was taking place in 1956, his personal Pentecost, he prayed that the Lord grant him the hearts of his flock, not so that he would subject them to himself, but so that he could lead them to Christ. Let us pray that we prove worthy of these human hearts, which had not yet come to Christ.

— Your Eminence, tell us please about the relationship of ROCOR with other Orthodox communities in America, with other confessions. What can you tell us about the missionary work of ROCOR?

— Among representatives of the various Local Orthodox Churches here there is a great degree of interest in the life and legacy of the Russian Church Abroad. So contacts, meetings, concelebration, brotherly cooperation and joint projects have become the norm, which gives us great joy. For this gives us the opportunity to share of the spiritual vessel which was given to us by our spiritual fathers, the founders of the Russian Church of the diaspora, and it is enriched by our joint service, fraternal relations and acquaintance with other Churches that share our faith.

As far as missionary work, many come to us who seek traditional Russian piety, Russian holiness. It is Russian holiness specifically, the podvizhniki and martyrs of the Russian Orthodox Church, Russian culture, which is suffused with the spirituality of Holy Russia, that is what draws Westerners to join our ranks. Thanks to the many new converts, parish communities are being formed in every diocese which conduct their service in the local tongue and who strive for Russian piety. There are missionary monasteries where monastics are comprised of members of the local population. The main goal in our missionary work is to preserve this spiritual treasure, this spirit of the Russian Church, so that in the West, we can serve the Church in the Fatherland and generously share it with the “natives.”

Such is the dual goal of our mission, of the existence of the Russian Orthodox Church on the uncertain territory of the diaspora… 

— 2013 marks the 400th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty. We know that ROCOR was the first to canonize the Royal Family and the other New Martyrs in 1981. How important is this jubilee in our difficult time?

— Listening carefully to your question, I remembered the truly pious, well-bred, cultured, articulate, intelligent, honest, kind, faithful and devoted podvizhniki of pre-Revolutionary Russia who found themselves in foreign lands, whom the Lord has permitted me to have met over the years as a servant of the Church, who had profound reverence for the last Royal Family. How I wish that Russian people, taking advantage of this remarkable opportunity, would look back at their history, immerse themselves in the essence of the podvig of the Royal Passion-Bearers, the spirit of the noble people of that period, most of whom suffered or found themselves in exile.

By carefully studying history, prayerful commemoration and immersion into this spirit of the pre-Revolutionary podvizhniki, who fearlessly stood for Russian Orthodoxy, I believe we can earn the renewal of our strength for further conducting our mission in today’s difficult times.

May this coming anniversary, after proper preparation of dignified celebration, demonstrate powerfully how “a strange and wonderful mystery” can exist in the hearts and lives of the people of Church and society

—Five years have passed since the signing of the Act of Canonical Communion of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church, and four years since your election as First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. What has changed over this time in ROCOR? What is the relationship between ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate? There was a time when ROCOR did not have enough clergymen who spoke Russian. How big is this problem today?

— I think that our relationship is developing fruitfully. There are temptations, of course, for only in the Church Triumphant is everything perfect and ideal. Still, any problems that arise in the Church and our relationship are addressed in the spirit of brotherly love and mutual understanding, tending to the good of the Church and the people of God first of all. As far as clergymen who speak Russian are concerned, I don’t remember a time when we did not have enough of them. Thank God, we always tried to preserve the Russian tongue, to serve our people, and we have so far succeeded. For instance, all the subjects taught in Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY, and in parish schools are in Russian. Thank God, many of my brother archpastors and fathers had studied under the professors and theologians of Holy Trinity Seminary from the pre-Revolutionary period, who spoke beautiful, literary Russian.

Preserving Russian and Church Slavonic, our traditions and customs, we try to minister not only to the old emigres and their descendants, but new parishioners, the great majority of whom resettling abroad from the countries of the former Soviet Union. May God grant that these new parishioners see the need to preserve their historic roots, otherwise they will deprive themselves of a great spiritual treasure.

— What do you think about the process of spiritual rebirth in Russia?

— The process of spiritual rebirth in Russia is a constant struggle, a crusade, a podvig. We must constantly support it, tend to it endlessly. This is our life’s work. Unfortunately, we see a strange attitude towards this important process on the part of some who think that everything has ended and so we can “rest on our laurels.”

This should not be our attitude. How many years was society decaying before the Revolution, how many years did the people live under the yoke of godless rule, that is how long, if not longer, that we must work on our rebirth.

The fruits of the labors of our saints can be enjoyed partly on this earth, but the “more perfect,” the “never-ending day of Thy Kingdom,” as we sing in the Paschal canon.

— Your Eminence, the Editors of Towards Unity! Thank you for your time in answering our questions. We wish you good health and God’s help in your difficult service.

Antonina Vlasova