AN INTERVIEW GIVEN BY ARCHBISHOP HILARION OF SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
ZEALAND, TO THE AUSTRALIAN NEWSPAPER THE WORD,
21 JUNE 2003
Vladyka Hilarion, whatever positions a man may occupy,
and however famous he may become, everything begins with his
childhood. Tell us about your own childhood.
I was born in Canada. My childhood was quite difficult:
my family could not break loose from poverty. The farm only
brought in enough to make ends meet, despite the fact that
we sowed wheat, oats and barley, and kept livestock. But in
the severe climatic conditions life was unpredictable.
Because of our poverty, my father constantly had to look for
work elsewhere. I began attending school at the age of six.
My first year was in a little one-room schoolhouse. All the
pupils lived within 2-3 miles of the school and walked to
it. Ten students of all ages sat in the same room. The following
year, they began to bus all of us to another, ordinary school,
and they closed the one-room schoolhouse. I remember how difficult
it was for me at first, and how I cried, because I didnt
know English. But my older sister comforted me as much as
she could. With amazing rapidity, within about a month, I
had mastered the language. Childhood is a marvelous time!
Each season had it own fascination. In the spring--mud on
the knees; the roads were impassable; yet all the children
gathered together, and nothing stopped us from getting to
school. And if a passing car gave us a lift, this was a memorable
occasion for celebration. Winter held its own enchantments.
The drainage ditches along the roads froze over, and we strapped
on skates and happily glided over the ice. My earliest childhood
impression was of a terrible freeze. We traveled on a one-horse
sleigh. The sleigh had a booth, in which there was a little
stove; but everyone was bundled up in winter clothes. This
was my clearest, best memory of childhoodwe were all
riding to school for a concert. I was a good student; but
the subject in which I achieved the highest marks was French.
How did your parents come to be in Canada?
My parents were born in Imperial Russia, in the Province
of Volhynia (now in the Ukraine), in the village of Obenizh.
This was a little village located between Kovel and Vladimir-Volynsk.
It still exists. My mother, Efrosynia Grivorievna (nÈe
Kasyaniuk), was born in 1908. My father, Alexei Markovich
Kapral, in 1909. My maternal grandfather was the warden of
the village church, dedicated to the Exaltation of the Cross.
During World War I, my parents, still children, were evacuated
to Ekaterinoslav (now Dnepropetrovsk). Afterward, Volhynia
passed to Poland. The Poles adopted the policy of Polonizing
our Orthodox people, and did this by force: they compelled
the children to study Polish instead of Russian or Ukrainian,
and also tried to introduce the New Calendar in the divine
services. My father married my mother at the age of nineteen,
and, not wishing to serve in the Polish army, immigrated to
Canada. At that time there was a major campaign to encourage
immigration to Canada, which was in need of a labor force
to take over the ownership of unpopulated, virgin lands. Many
areas of Canada were unpopulated, and the government offered
each arrival 160 acres of land.
This gave hope to many, and the Ukrainians set out for those
remote lands to begin a new life. On June 19, 1929, my parents
arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, aboard the steamship Lithuania.
They were quite literate people, even though because of the
war they had received only a primary education.
They read and wrote Russian, Ukrainian and Polish. At home,
they spoke two languages--Ukrainian and English. At that time
Russian was for me totally incomprehensible. The arrival of
my parents in Canada coincided with the worldwide economic
depression. Men were going from country to country, seeking
a better lot. My parents also moved to an area which was called
Peace River. This was a place remarkable for its beauty. A
broad, swift, icy river, and all around dense forests. Each
family was given $100 and an axe, so that the men themselves
could build living quarters. The climate of northern Canada
was severe. They had to build their houses quickly, since
winter was coming, with temperatures as low as 40-50 below
zero. This is how my parents began their life in Canada.
How large was your family?
In 1929, my oldest sister, Anastasia, was born; four
years later, the twins, Peter and Harry, as like as two peas
in a pod, made their appearance. Later, Michael was born,
and then my brother Basil and sister Anna. And only eight
years later, on Christmas Eve, 1948, was I born. I was born
at home, since my mother couldn_t make it to the hospital.
The name they gave for my birth certificate was Gregory, although
at baptism I received the name Igor. The great difference
in age between me and my brothers and sisters meant that I
basically grew up alone. Many of them went out to live on
their own and didst stay at home.
Tell us, under whose influence you not only became
a priest, but took the tonsure at so young an age.
When I was still a young child, one day, in church,
I was so inspired by the beauty of the divine service that,
when I came home, I gathered together several icons and candles
and began to play at being a priest. This sense of compunction
never left me. In the forest next to my house, I made my own,
secret church; I was at that time eight years old. I adorned
my church with icons, said such prayers as I remembered from
the services, and even made wine, squeezing the
juice from grapes. I also performed services of need.
Whenever Mama killed a chicken, I would take the severed head
and hold a funeral for it. Funerals in church left a considerable
impression on me. They were served quite frequently in our
parish, and I often pondered questions of life and death.
As a child, I had a prayerbook from which I prayed. It was
written in Ukrainian. Mama taught \pard cs52me to read and
write Ukrainian. Then I composed my own liturgy. Later I went
further: on a neighboring farm there lived a girl who was
four years older than me, and had never been baptized. I baptized
her and gave her communion after my own liturgy.
In school, I loved to discuss religious matters with my friends,
debating, for example, Darwins theory of evolution.
I would listen to special broadcasts over Canadian radio.
All of this raised new questions, which required answers.
I began to read the Bible in English. Soon I began to subscribe
to church literature and magazines in English and Russian.
May parents did not hinder me in this.
More and more the desire arose within me to become a priest.
The clergy of our church encouraged my desire. One clergyman
gave me icons and booklets, and told me: Youll
be a good batiushka! I always treated all priests with
reverence, and even more so the bishop. Throughout my high
school years I sensed that this was only a preparation for
seminary and becoming a priest. But when my mother learned
of my decision, she said: No! You shouldnt become
a priest. They are always so poor; our parishes are so small;
and the life of a priest is very difficult. Better become
a teacher, or a doctor, or a lawyer. But I was insistent
and said that I would only be a priest. At that time I had
not notion of monasticism.
How did your years of study turn out? Where did you
At first, our bishop, Panteleimon of Edmonton thought
about sending me to study in France; but they closed the seminary
there. Then he thought about sending me to seminary in Russia.
For a whole year, Vladyka negotiated with the Leningrad Seminary,
but in the end received a curt refusal. Much later, I learned
that the KGB had asked about my parents in the Ukraine, trying
to find out why I wanted to study in Russia. I was then all
of eighteen years of age. At that time, I received copies
of the open letters written by Fr. Gleb Yakunin and Fr. Nicholas
Eshliman, addressed to Patriarch Alexis I, Prime Minister
Anatoly Kosygin, and General Secretary Brezhnev, regarding
the persecution of religion in the Soviet Union. These letters
opened my eyes to many things. Especially troublesome for
me was an article by the infamous Metropolitan Nikodim of
Leningrad to the magazine One Church, in which he praised
Communism and said that Communism and Christianity shared
a the same ideals. This article shocked me profoundly.
I understood that I could no longer remain in the jurisdiction
of the Moscow Patriarchate, and that my place was with the
Synod Abroad. I decided to visit Bishop Savva (Sarachevich),
the bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. He had been
born in Serbia, and at that time was living in Edmonton. He
received me like a long-lost friend. He was a man of high
spiritual life; in his conversations he always quoted the
teachings of the Fathers; and was an extraordinarily good
man. I told him of my desire to study in a seminary, and Vladyka
spoke at length of what a good thing holy monasticism was.
He inspired me. The journey from western Canada to the Monastery
at Jordanville took three days. The first impression I received
when I saw the Monastery was staggering. This was on November
8, 1967. Snow-covered, with a beautiful, golden-domed church
and a large monastery residence; 800 acres amid picturesque
farms, woods and lakesit seemed like another world,
like some sort of Shangri-La. However, after two weeks of
studies, I lost my head and became disenchanted, and began
to consider returning to Vladyka Savva. I wrote a letter to
Vladyka Savva with a petition that he take me under obedience
to himself, but he answered that if I desire to be a monk,
then this was a time of trial for me. I should remain at the
Seminary, and the Lord God Himself would show me the way I
should go. Thus, I continued to study within its walls for
After completing my studies, I no longer wanted to go anywhere
else, so much did I love Holy Trinity Monastery and its Seminary.
You have never regretted becoming a monk?
No, never. Monks are distinguished from other Christians
in that they do not bind themselves with marital bonds and
dedicate themselves wholly to prayer and spiritual struggle,
so as to be free for fellowship with the Lord. Doubtless,
it might be pleasant to have a family, children; but every
person has his own destiny. I have never regretted taking
the path of monasticism.
How did your fate subsequently unfold?
I finished Seminary in 1972 and while preparing myself
for monasticism became an instructor in the Seminary, in addition
to fulfilling a number of other obediences in the Monastery.
I soon became a novice, and in 1974, was tonsured a rassophor-monk.
In 1975, Archbishop Averky (Taushev), the abbot of the Monastery
and rector of the Seminary, ordained me to the rank of hierodeacon.
I was the last to be ordained by Archbishop Averky before
he died, and I served him as cell-attendant during the last
years of his life, during his final illness. In 1976, I was
ordained to the priesthood by the present Metropolitan Laurus
(then Bishop of Manhattan). Throughout my years in Jordanville,
I worked mostly in the printery. In the beginning, I taught
New Testament and Moral Theology in the Seminary. Later, I
taught Comparative Theology. Then I introduced a new subject,
Biblical Archaeology, which is still being taught there. I
also received the degree of Master of Science in Slavic Languages
and Russian Literature. In 1984, I was appointed vicar bishop
of the Diocese of Eastern America and New York, to help Metropolitan
Philaret (I received the title Bishop of Manhattan), as well
as to assist Bishop Gregory (Grabbe) in the position of Deputy
Secretary of the Synod of Bishops. Having lived at the Monastery
for seventeen years, the City of New York became my place
years later I received the title Bishop of Washington, and
in 1996, the Synod appointed me to Australia and raised me
to the rank of archbishop.
Australia has served in the past as a place of exile
for Englishmen. After World War II, it population increased
with the influx of immigrants, who remain to this day. How
has this, in your opinion, influenced the character of the
I have lived in Canada, and also for many years in
America; and for this reason I am able to judge the distinguishing
traits of todays Australians. They are well-intended
and not given to vanity. The most common reaction to any of
lifes calamities is Were not going to be
upset everything will settle down.ß Over the past 10-20
years, the number of immigrants has increased, especially
from Asian countries. This has decisively altered the face
of Australia. Now everything has become mixed, and this has
had an amazing affect upon the countrys culture. It
is like a mosaic. It is beautiful that people are preserving
their culture and language. Even the SBS news is broadcast
in different languages, including Russian. I love Australia
very much. I especially love it because we have in it such
a good, pious church flock.
Vladyka Hilarion, one more question: the question
of the relationship between the Russian Church Abroad and
the Moscow Patriarchate.
This question is very serious and complex. The reason
for the divisions which exist to this day is the intrusion
of militantly atheistic Communion into the life of the Church;
the consequences of this have yet to be eliminated. The Russian
people and the Church of Russia have endured the most savage
persecutions and genocide in the history of the world. In
1927, when the then Metropolitan Sergius (Stragorodsky) published
his infamous declaration of loyalty to the Soviet Union,.
he in fact thereby made the hierarchy of the Church subject
to the godless government.
became, in effect, the Soviets department for religious affairs.
In this declaration it was stated that the joys of the Soviet
Union were the joys of the Church. And these very joys
at that time included the annihilation of the Faith in our
homeland. It was then that the division took place within
the Church of Russia. A large number of bishops, clergymen
and believers in Russia cut off eucharistic communion with
Metropolitan Sergius; and abroad, all the bishops and the
entire flock also ceased ecclesiastical fellowship with Metropolitan
Sergius (later patriarch). Beyond the borders of Russia, on
the basis of Patriarch Tikhons Decree #362 of 1920,
a temporary ecclesiastical administration was formed, known
later as the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church
Throughout the years of the Communist regime in the homeland,
the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad always bore witness before
the world concerning the real, persecuted state of religion
in the U.S.S.R., while the hierarchy of the Moscow Patriarchate
had to give out false information about the state of the Russian
Church in the homeland. In the Church of Christ there must
never be any falsehood, just as it is not possible to serve
two masters, as our Savior says. Yet many bishops of the Moscow
Patriarchate had to do just that. We can understand their
difficult position during the time of savage persecutions;
but now, when Communism no longer exists as a political structure
and pressure is no longer brought to bear upon the Church,
one would expect from the Moscow Patriarchate an obligatory,
conciliar dissociation from Sergianism and from the participation
in the ecumenical movement and the World Council of Churches
foisted on the Patriarchate by the godless government.
Until this happens, there is no possibility of serious discussion
about healing the tragic division which has existed in the
Church of Russia for so many decades. We very much desire
and pray for the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church; but
this unity can exist only on the basis of the Truth and purity.
We see many positive, splendid changes for the better in the
church life of the Russian people, and we rejoice in this.
We understand that the deep wound of division borne by the
body of the Church of Russia requires time to heal. This would
largely depend upon the current leadership of the Moscow Patriarchate,
if they are able to free themselves from servility to compromise,
which contradicts the spirit of Christian doctrine, and become
laborers beyond reproach, preaching the word of truth
Only in the Truth can the fellowship we call the Church
of Christ exist. May the Truth of Christ prevail!
This interview was conducted by Liubov Primachek, and
appeared in the Sydney, Australia, newspaper The Word, #24/2003.