On Pascha Week, the Editor-in-Chief of Unification met with His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, who also holds the position of Ruling Bishop of the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand. The meeting took place at Vladyka Hilarionís residence in Croydon at 9 am.
- Vladyka, Paschal celebrations are particularly stressful for you. But they are also joyous days. We are happy that you are visiting Australia again. Where have you visited, and where do you still plan to go?
- At first I would like to say that since I now hold the position of the President of the Synod of Bishops, my primary residence is in New York, but it is a great joy for me whenever I visit Australia. It is especially pleasing for me to come during the great days of Holy Pascha. This time I am able to spend a month and a half here. I arrived on April 10 and flew to Adelaide right away. I visited the little monastic skete of Prophet Elias in South Australia, where the Australian native Hieromonk Benjamin lives. He leads a strict monastic life. But on holidays and weekends, a lot of worshipers gather there, Orthodox Christians who live in the area. His monastery, located 30-40 minutes from the city, is in a beautiful area near Mary River, where he built an eight-sided chapel which accommodates 10-15 people. After the service, everyone gathers in a large hall at his house for a trapeza. Fr Benjamin planted olive trees on the property, which produces income for his monastery. He has lived at the skete for over 20 years and is a very hospitable man. It is a quiet, peaceful place which engenders a spiritual mood. Fr Benjamin was once a teacher, then converted to Orthodoxy, and served at one time in our church in Newcastle, having been tonsured to monasticism by Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany. He serves in English at his skete. Australians and people of other nationalities attend his services-he even has Assyrian Orthodox Christians. The place is suffused with prayer. There are three other Orthodox parishes in Adelaide, two of which hold services in English. Fr Benjamin and I went to visit St Elizabeth Parish, whose rector is another Orthodox Australian, Fr. Barnabas Jellings. He serves together with his son, a deacon, and they rent a hall for services.
The Parish of St Patrick is led by Fr Peter Hill. He also rents a space where he holds regular services. Missionary life in Adelaide is blossoming, one could say. On Saturday before Palm Sunday, I served in St Nicholas Church, whose rector is Protopriest Vladimir Deduhin. It was a very ceremonious service. The choir sang magnificently under Natalia Stanko.
- Were there many people at the service in Adelaide?
- Yes, many, the church was full, and in good spirits. During the service I ordained three new readers. Two of them are from Fr Peter Hillís parish. The third, Paul Tokarev, I later ordained a subdeacon, and during Liturgy, to the diaconate. This was a significant event for St Nicholas Church, because the parish had no deacon for many years, and it is difficult for a priest to lead services without a deacon. Protodeacon Alexander Kotliaroff helped me in Adelaide.
- Where did you go after Adelaide?
- I went to Brisbane to visit Protopriest Michael Klebansky, who is gravely ill. Returning to Sydney on Passion Week, I served at SS Peter and Paul Cathedral from Thursday until Pascha Sunday. I was very happy to see so many people attend divine services there, and how well the choir sang. After the Paschal procession, many parishioners stayed for the midnight office and Liturgy, and partook of the Holy Gifts of Christ. On Sunday I was invited by St Sergius Charitable Society, where I visited the sick and elderly residents of the senior home. I had lunch with them, which was also attended by the Russian Ambassador and Consul General, and members of the Russian Charitable Society. On the second day of Pascha, Monday, in accordance with tradition, after service at the Archbishopís Church in Croydon, the diocesan headquarters, a ceremonial luncheon was offered for all the clergy and numerous parishioners. I conducted a brief moleben service, after which everyone ate kulich and cheese pascha prepared by the churchís sisterhood. In addition to the churchís parishioners, worshipers from neighboring parishes also came, and the house was filled. Some people came just to have a face-to-face talk, and at the end, the young attendees began singing. One Greek family from Oxford comes to Sydney for the holidays sang Christ is Risen in various languages, Greek, Finnish, Georgian, Arabic etc. The day was wonderful. On Tuesday, also according to tradition, I participated in divine services at Holy Protection Church in Cabramatta. The choir sang magnificently under Andrei Laptev. Everyone participated in a procession around the church, after which they shared a trapeza feast.
- You mentioned the wonderful choirs. I heard that there will be a singersí conference soon?
- From May 1-4, Canberra will host the Diocesan Singersí Conference. The capital will draw choir directors and singers from various parishes. From May 3-4, I will go to Canberra and participate in services at St John the Baptist Church. I hope to hear the singers perform all together. At 3 pm, according to Fr Alexander Morozov, there will be a benefit concert to cover the expense of sending several singers to a choral festival in Poland. On May 6, the feast day of St George the Victory-Bearer, I will participate in Liturgy at the church dedicated to that saint in Carleton. On May 9-11, I will fly to Perth to participate in divine services in SS Peter and Paul Church. From May 17-18, I will celebrate services in Annunciation Parish in Brisbane, which will be celebrating its 40th anniversary. The church used to be in the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church in America. Since the church is so far from the United States, Metropolitan Jonah transferred it to the Russian Church Abroad, so we minister to its English-speaking parishioners. Fr Alexander Borodin is its rector now, and I will ordain Deacon Andrei Smith to the priesthood. That same day, a graduate of Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY, Reader Alexander Paramonov, will be ordained to the diaconate. He will serve at first at St Nicholas Cathedral, and will be preparing to head the parish in the Gold Coast. This parish just moved to a new location in Tweed Heads. There is a good house there with a great layout for worshipers. On May 24, the feast day of SS Cyril and Methodius, Equal-to-the-Apostles, to whom the parish is dedicated, we will ordain Deacon Alexander Paramonov to the priesthood. A few days earlier there will be a meeting of the diocesan council.
- Do you chair this meeting?
- Yes. In my absence, I am replaced by Protopriest Michael Protopopov, one of the most senior clergymen in the diocese. Iíd like to announce that in early July, Bishop George of Mayfield, my vicar in the US, will come to Australia for 2 ? months. Returning to my own schedule, on May 22, the day of the Translation of the Relics of St Nicholas of Myra, I will serve in the Fairfield (Sydney) church, whose rector is the Dean of NSW, Protopriest Nikita Chemodakov. On May 25, I will participate in my last service at SS Peter and Paul Cathedral in Sydney before returning to New York. As I noted in my epistle, an All-Diaspora Russian Orthodox Youth Conference will take place in San Francisco, CA. Concurrently, there will be a meeting of the Council of Bishops, which occur every two or three years.
- Meanwhile, the Synod of Bishops handles day-to-day affairs of the Russian Church Abroad?
- Yes, the Synod of Bishops, which consists of five bishops elected for a three-year period. This coming Council will see the consecration of Hieromonk Nicholas (Olhovsky), whom many people in Australia know personally, since he would bring the Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God here. He will be the new Bishop of Manhattan, that is, my right-hand man in New York.
- As I prepared materials on the celebration of Pascha in Australia, I counted roughly 10,000 parishioners participating in the services in the Russian churches here. Does the diocese keep more accurate records of the number of parishioners it has?
- Ten thousand sounds right, but we donít keep count. It is hard to determine the actual number of parishioners. Often people who register as parishioners miss services, meanwhile, those who donít sign up come regularly. Our churches are open to everyone. But we probably could count how many attend Sunday services, so that we could tell whether the numbers are growing or falling. I would say that the number is growing, because of new immigrants, and those who came a long time ago and find God. This is especially true in the parishes that lead a vigorous spiritual life. We see this in SS Peter and Paul Cathedral. The number of parishioners who actively participate in parish life is growing.
- Iíd like to ask about the preparation of new priests for the diocese. Most current priests are educated in Jordanville. But I understand there are no Australians in that seminary now?
- There is one. But Russian Australians also attend other seminaries. One graduated from Kiev Spiritual School. Some take correspondence courses. Actually, Jordanvilleís seminary is introducing a correspondence course. At the present, almost all of our parishes have their own clergymen, so we cannot accept any more. We get a number of inquiries by priests in Russia, but we first try to train our own people, who grew up here and are well-oriented to local life.
- Over six years have passed since the reestablishment of unity between the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Moscow Patriarchate. What has changed over that time? Do you still have administrative and financial independence; do you feel any pressure from them?
- We are absolutely independent. What has changed? Church life has become richer and more varied, we participate in Councils of Bishops in Moscow, wonderful choirs from Russia come to perform for us. During the visit of our Kursk-Root Icon to Kursk oblast, it was venerated by hundreds of thousands of people. Our parishioners make pilgrimages to Russia and participate in youth conferences.
- Reunification of the two branches of the Russian Church was the cause of some priests and parishioners leaving ROCOR and going into schism. I know of three priests in Sydney, and also in Queensland. Has there been any contact with them?
- We have had no contact with the priests who left. But as I noted, nothing has changed in the Russian Church Abroad, there is no pressure of any kind from Moscow. Meanwhile, our contact with the Church in Russia has improved. Incidentally, from July 30 to August 13, I will lead a new pilgrimage to the holy sites of Russia. We will visit Moscow, Diveevo, Optina Hermitage, Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery and St Petersburg. Galina Sologub is organizing this trip. We will make an announcement for anyone interested.
- Recently, senior homes of the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross have closed. But the Brotherhood still owns the Russian village in Kentlyn. Who will make decisions about its future?
- The Village Administration will be run by our diocese. We wonít reopen a senior home there, it will be used by the church people. These matters will be discussed by the Diocesan Council in late May, before I leave.
- Your last service before returning to New York will be on May 25. WhenwillyoucometoAustraliaagain?
- I spent twelve years in Australia, and I love the country very much. I donít have exact schedule of my next visit, but I would like to come as soon as I can.
Watch the video of the nighttime Paschal services in SS Peter and Paul Cathedral in Sydney: