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I Accepted the Calling of First Hierarch As an Obedience Before the Holy Church

An interview with Metropolitan Hilarion

On Friday, October 23, the final day of the Pastoral Conference in Atlanta, GA, Diocesan Media Office correspondent Reader Gregory Levitsky was granted a talk with the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, on the subject of developments within the Eastern American Diocese, clerical spouses, and Holy Cross Monastery.

- Your Eminence, more than a year has passed since your election as First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad and Ruling Bishop of the Eastern American Diocese. In your opinion, what positive changes have taken place in the Diocese during this time?

I accepted the calling of First Hierarch as an obedience before the Holy Church, and in my service I rely solely on God’s help and the prayers of our archpastors, pastors, and all Orthodox Christians for the success and spiritual growth of our Church, and for our people to find salvation in the bosom of the Church. I can’t speak to the positive developments, as they are not my personal accomplishments, but those of our flock. But I can chiefly point to the reunification that took place in 2007, between the two parts of the one Russian Orthodox Church.

In place of worrisome developments, such as the tragic departure from the bosom of the Church of that portion of our flock which did not accept the reunification, our diasporan churches are being visited by peace, tranquility, and fortification. This was a painful process, but I believe that those who left us will see with time that this was the wrong decision, and will return to the bosom of the Holy Church.

In regard to diocesan life, I am currently the Ruling Bishop of two dioceses, the Eastern American Diocese and the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand. I am grateful to God that we now have two vicar bishops, His Grace Bishop George of Mayfield and His Grace Bishop Jerome of Manhattan, who help me govern the Eastern American Diocese, from Maine in the north to Florida and the Caribbean isles in the south. They in turn are aided by our remarkable clergy, who work tirelessly in their parishes and in Church life.

I would especially like to point out that changes are currently underway in the administration of the Eastern American Diocese. With the election of a new Diocesan Council, the diocese has roared to life. A new dDiocesan center was established and, thanks to our very energetic secretary, Archpriest Serge Lukianov, and the other members of the Council, many issues and problems have already been resolved.

The administrative life of the Diocese was put in order: we resolved issues together that prior fell solely on the shoulders of the bishops. I am very grateful to all those who have worked hard and created the new diocesan website, where events from diocesan life are reported almost daily.

In regards to the remote Diocese of Australia and New Zealand, I try to visit it several times a year. I am glad to see that Church life there is peaceful and tranquil as well, though the protracted absence of a hierarch is not especially good for a diocese. For this reason, we are trying to find a vicar bishop for the future.

I am planning on being in Australia from November 19 to January 4 to visit parishes, including ones in New Zealand, to take part in the youth conference there, and to be at the services and events of several parishes marking their 50th and 60th anniversaries. I plan to be in the United States and serve for the Nativity.

In March of this year, a meeting of the Eastern American Diocese was held at St Vladimir Memorial Church, where new members of the Diocesan Council were elected and immediately held their first session under your chairmanship. At the meeting, the Council adopted a series of very important resolutions regarding the Diocesan administration. One of the principal resolutions was the opening of a new diocesan center in Howell, NJ. How would you rate the new administration’s work over the last six months?

I am very pleased that the administration acted energetically and meticulously, determining our administrative shortcomings and, with God’s help, setting everything in order. In addition, we are planning new, specific missions, and new undertakings; working with the youth and charitable organizations, always keeping proactive, with an eye on the future.

Members of the Diocesan Council often seek guidance in the experience and legacy of Archbishop Nikon (Rklitsky). Why is the legacy of Archbishop Nikon so important for us in today’s day?

The ever-memorable Archbishop Nikon was an outstanding hierarch and a candidate for First Hierarch in 1964. Diocesan life hit a high under his guidance. He gave himself totally to his diocese, was a very sociable, knowledgeable, and loving man. His term of service came during a period of active growth, when Church communities were being established by refugees from Russia.

Today the situation is different: we must fortify parishes whose average membership is aging, simultaneously bringing into the Church (“churching”) new members, immigrants in recent years from Russia and the CIS. We must also undertake missionary work here in the United States, remembering that witnessing Orthodoxy and attracting people to the bosom of the Church for the salvation of their souls are the responsibility not only of the clergy, but of all Orthodox Christians. We have three great tasks before us: fortifying the old-timers, bringing up our youth, and attracting new believers.

Here in Atlanta, the pastoral conference for clergy of the Eastern American Diocese and their spouses, the first of its kind in the history of our diocese, just completed its work. Why is the participation of the matushkas in these conferences so important?

This was truly a remarkable conference. The role of clerical spouses cannot be overstated. Often quite indispensible support and fortification can be given to a clergyman only by his matushka. She is an active participant in parish life – she has her area of expertise and the priest has his, but together they function very positively and salvifically in the parish, in their family, and in contact with the faithful. This is especially felt in small parishes, where it is not unheard of for the matushka to sing alone on the kliros or bake the prosphora herself.

I am, therefore, very pleased that at this conference the matushkas were able to participate in seminars, have their say, and share their experiences. It was especially nice to hear from some matushkas that, despite experiencing some difficulties, they understood that supporting their spouse-clergyman comprised their service to God and the Church.

Vladyka, do you think that we should hold conferences for matushkas alone?

I consider these conferences most effective when clergy and matushkas participate together. I think that we should not separate them; problems and issues in the lives of both matushkas and clergymen are issues of parish life. It is becoming for them to take mutual part in discussing the best ways of accomplishing their parish goals. This is especially true for young matushkas; it is very important for them to learn from the experience of older matushkas and clergymen.

What would you say to those who do not consider it important to take part in these conferences?

I would say that they are robbing themselves of the richness of fraternal and ecclesiastical interaction, knowledge, and experience. All of us, hierarchs, priests, and laymen, receive a great deal of practical knowledge of how to manage our Church life at these conferences. I would very much like for every priest who really can attend (I know that it is difficult for many) not to rob himself of this fraternal intercourse and participation at the divine services, preparation for Holy Communion, confession, joint communion, and personal contact in general. This can be a great spiritual boost not only for the priests, but for all of the participants. When a priest returns thus renewed and inspired, it can’t help but benefit our parishes.

As regards those who express a desire not to participate or a disinterest in diocesan life, I would say that they are sinning against the catholicity of the Church. We cannot achieve salvation outside of the Church, outside of communion with one another; we are saved together, as one Church. The Lord said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20); these gatherings are like a professional course, necessary for any specialist to deepen and renew his knowledge. Hierarchs, priests, and deacons use these conferences, gatherings, and seminars to continue their spiritual and practical education. Therefore, priests who do not wish to participate are robbing themselves of further education and experience. This cannot be allowed – they must participate.

Over the last ten years, the southern portion of the diocese has grown rapidly, with many Americans converting to Orthodoxy. Holy Cross Monastery (WV) has quickly become the spiritual center of the South, and many receive spiritual guidance from the brethren of the monastery. How would you classify the role of Holy Cross Monastery in the future life of the Eastern American Diocese?

I am overjoyed at the growth of Orthodoxy in the South. While still the vicar bishop of the Eastern American Diocese (1984-96), I actively participated in life in the South, and I am happy to see the creation of Holy Cross Monastery. The presence of a monastery in every diocese and region is indispensible, and is very important for the spiritual well-being of the parishes and faithful. After visiting a monastery, taking part in prayer, conversing with the monastics, pilgrims return home renewed, desirous of wholehearted participation in parish life. This way, under the influence of the monasteries, parish life flourishes. I think that this monastery will play a large role in the spiritual development and fortification of the southern part of the Eastern American Diocese.

What words of guidance would you like to give to visitors of our diocesan website?

I would like for all of our parishioners, all Orthodox Christians, who visit our site, first and foremost, to follow the instruction of our Savior, and seek the Kingdom of Heaven, and His righteousness, and all these things in life shall be added unto them (Matthew 6:33). Let us be zealous in our individual salvation, working to correct our shortcomings through repentance, through obedience to the commandments of Christ, and through habitation in love and peace with our neighbors. If we do this, we will draw ourselves closer to God, and in communion with Him we will live in Christ’s grace-filled Kingdom, which the Lord promises to all those who love Him and fulfill His commandments. I wish that everyone, with all their heart and soul, accepted this with diligence. For on this is dependent ourfuture: life eternal.

The interview was conducted by Reader Gregory Levitsky
Media Office of the Eastern American Diocese
Atlanta, GA
October 23, 2009