Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America & New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, discusses the actions of Constantinople, Church schisms, enduring persecution, and ties with Ukraine.
– Your Eminence, how are the actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in receiving schismatics and claiming power over the whole Church viewed from abroad?
– We are very sad and bewildered as we observe the actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, in which we sense the influence of the powers that be in this world, and a dismissive attitude toward the truth of Orthodox Christianity in the land of Ukraine, which is holy for us. Astonishing, too, is the complete absence of a pastoral approach to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church headed by His Beatitude Onufry, Metropolitan of Kiev & All Ukraine.
For by "legalizing" schismatics and trying in every way to secure their recognition by the Local Orthodox Churches, Patriarch Bartholomew in fact excommunicates not only the overwhelming majority of our brother-archpastors, clergy, monastics, and laity of Ukraine, who are dedicated to Holy Orthodoxy, but all of us, as well. It is unclear why Patriarch Bartholomew and his Holy Synod hastened to make such a rash decision, without the counsel of the Russian Orthodox Church and other Local Orthodox Churches. The decision to rescind a 300-year-old document and efforts to justify their intrusion into the territory of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church appear at minimum clumsy and irresponsible.
Still, we try to pray for him and those around him, that the Lord may grant them wisdom, illumine and have mercy on them, even as we beseech Heavenly aid to His Beatitude, Metropolitan Onufry, and the entire Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the sole canonical Church of Christ in Ukraine.
– Persecutions of the Church in the Ukrainian land in one form or another have not ceased since the times of the 1917 revolution. In that context, how important for us is the memory of the New Martyrs as examples of endurance in the most difficult of circumstances?
– Of course, the example shown by our New Martyrs and Confessors shows us how to live under persecution. When a person deeply believes in God and trusts in His guidance with all his heart, he learns patience, humility, and the calm endurance of troubles; meanwhile, these virtues then spread to those around him. Such a person will always act according to the Gospel. Let us remember the martyrdom of Metropolitan Vladimir (Bogoyavlensky) of Kiev & Galicia, who prayed for the forgiveness of his executioners and blessing them before being shot. A distant relative of St. Vladimir’s, the Most Blessed Metropolitan Anastassy (Gribanovsky) of blessed memory, second First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, called him "the leader of the God-crowned regiment" of new passion-bearers and confessors of Christ. Imagine the edifying blessing the clergy and flock of the time received when they learned of the example of New Hieromartyr Vladimir and his calm, prayerful attitude to his persecution and persecutors! We should also remember St. Tikhon (Bellavin), the Patriarch-Confessor, who, just as His Beatitude, Metropolitan Onufry today, was rejected by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. St. Tikhon accepted the brutality of that period of persecution as having been permitted by God, remembering the words of the Psalmist: "Be manful, and let thy heart be strengthened, and wait on the Lord." Therefore, the most difficult thing for us now is also the most important: to follow their example and firmly stand in the faith, humbly and thankfully accepting Divine Providence, knowing that He leads us to eternal life, and fervently praying for both the persecuted and the persecutors. We should hope that such prayer and such behavior will evoke the mercy of God.
– You were tonsured to the riassa with the name Hilarion in honor of Venerable Hilarion, Schemamonk of the Caves. Do you sense a special bond with the Kievan land?
– Without a doubt! In my cell, I have an icon of my Heavenly patron, Venerable Hilarion, Schemamonk of the Caves, with a portion of his holy relics. This icon is brought out to the middle of the Synodal Cathedral of our Lady "of the Sign" in New York for veneration by the faithful on his feast day. When I visit the Kiev Caves Lavra, I always make haste to his crypt and pray for his aid. Naturally, I have a particularly reverent attitude toward the Kiev Caves, Pochaev, and Svyatogorsk Lavras, and to other holy sites in Ukraine. My relatives live in that country, whom I try to visit and with whom I stay in contact.
This special relationship with the land of Kiev is augmented by the fraternal bonds between our Russian Church Abroad and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Firstly, St. John (Maximovich), Archbishop of Shanghai & San Francisco, the Wonderworker, was born in the town of Adamovka 125 years ago; he lived and studied in Kharkov, where he met the future Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of blessed memory, who headed the Russian Church Abroad in 1920. Secondly, it is known that Metropolitan Anthony served on the Kievan metropolitan cathedra after the murder of Metropolitan Vladimir. Speaking of St. Vladimir, one cannot help but remember the head of the publishing brotherhood in Pochaev, Archimandrite Vitaly (Maximenko), who died as an archbishop abroad. It was he who reestablished the Pochaev publishing brotherhood abroad and set up a safe haven for it at Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY. Archbishop Vitaly could not recount the last Akathist to the Dormition of the Mother of God served by Metropolitan Vladimir in the Caves Lavra without tears in his eyes. Then-Archimandrite Vitaly joined the Metropolitan in serving the akathist and was very touched by the manner in which the archpastor prayed during the last days of his earthly life. This is reflected in the Theotokion of the ninth ode of the canon in the service to the New Martyrs composed by the Russian Church Abroad in 1981 by Archbishop Anthony (Medvedev), the spiritual son of Archbishop Vitaly: "O all-hymned Mother: Even though thy great Church of the Caves hath been demolished by the wicked, wherein the Hieromartyr Vladimir, when the day of his murder drew nigh, read the akathist hymn with great compunction, praying to thee, yet thy mercy for repentant people doth not fail utterly. Rejoice, O joyous one, who in thy dormition hast not forsaken us!"
Archimandrite Dimitry (Byakai) and Archimandrite Nektary (Chernobyl), serving in our Mission in the Holy Land, and Archimandrite Gelasy (Maiboroda), who died a cleric of the Cathedral "of the Sign" in New York, as well as many other active members of the Russian Diaspora, were born in Kievan Rus and personally knew many martyrs and confessors. I had the joy of knowing these and other ascetics who held aloft the banner of Holy Russia in the Diaspora, fondly remembering their homeland, her martyrs and other saints.
But it is not only the past that evokes in us special reverence for Ukraine. The present monastic, hierarchal, and confessional feats of His Beatitude, Metropolitan Onufry, awaken in us feelings of love and respect for him and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which he heads, the true heir of the Church which, baptized in the font of the Dniepr River, received the Orthodox Faith of our fathers.
– What can unite believers today?
– During Great Lent, the faithful are united by the universal feat of repentance of the whole Church, which each member carries out to the extent of his ability and opportunity, and afterwards, the Paschal joy of the Resurrected Christ. We are called upon to live in this joy. That is why Pascha is called "the feast of feasts and festival of festivals," always held above the Twelve Feasts. In general, the Holy Fathers write that the most ideal state of the human soul is the unity of the effort of Great Lent and the endearing joy of the radiant night of Christ’s Pascha. So it seems to me, that if everyone tries to "serve the Lord with fear," together and patiently bearing our common cross of witness, and together "rejoice in Him with trembling," "rejoicing divinely, for Christ is risen," then this will firmly unite us and strengthen us. So be it, so be it!
– What challenges face mankind today?
– In my view, the most difficult challenge of our time is the universal secularization of society, which pulls people away from the saving bosom of Christ’s Church. Some easily accept this, obtaining various pleasures as a reward for their tepid nature, while others try to fight it through an active striving toward God, preaching the Gospel not so much by word but by their very way of life. The latter inspire others and preserve them within Holy Orthodoxy.
– Who among the saints is for you an example to emulate?
– As a hierarch residing – and serving to the best of my ability – in complicated conditions abroad, I would say that the Holy Hierarch John (Maximovich) successfully fought the secularization of society that was beginning then, combining within himself various saintly qualities: of the prophets, the apostles, the hierarchs, the martyrs, the monastics and the unmercenaries. He knew perfectly well the lives of the saints, remembering details of their lives, not only of the famous ascetics, and tried to emulate them. That is how, performing in his life the service the prophets, apostles, and other saints, he was able, with God’s help, to attract, console, edify, and unite a great multitude of believers, who after 55 years since his repose (1966), continue to piously honor his memory. It is he whom we should imitate in our difficult times!
– What would you wish for the believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church?
– With a warm heart and brotherly love, I wish for them to overcome all crises, which will elevate them spiritually, renew the strengths of the People of God and open the eyes of others to God’s Truth!