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Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York: A United Church is Indomitable

A life in union is developing between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. The recent long visit by the First Hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad was an important part of this. During his trip, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York granted an interview in which he spoke about inter-Orthodox relations on the American continent and the position of the Russian Church Abroad today, and also shared his views on the perspectives of overcoming schism in Ukraine. This interview, published in the journal Tserkovnky vestnik [Church Herald], was prepared with the cooperation of the Press Service of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

— Unfortunately, I do not speak Ukrainian and fluently as I would wish, though I love the language. Ukrainian was my native language as a child. My mother taught me to read Ukrainian, but my education was in English. Later I enrolled in the Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY, where the classes were held in Russian, so it is easier for me to speak Russian and English.

— What is your attitude towards the believers of the “UOC of the Kiev Patriarchate”? As we know, until recently, the Russian Orthodox Church likewise did not recognize ROCOR, and later all the Sacraments of ROCOR were accepted as valid.

— Separation from the Church for political purposes and due to personal resentment is a great sin which separates us.

There are different kinds of divisions. Divisions between our Churches occurred in the aftermath of historical events, the subjugation of Russia by the godless regime, which interfered in the life of the Church and tried to destroy faith and the faithful. But the Regulations of ROCOR clearly states that it considers itself an indissoluble part of the one Local Russian Orthodox Church. In accordance with this document, it was temporarily administered separately, until the removal of the godless, atheist government. And when this occurred, the long process of dialog began, since many people were psychologically unprepared for such a drastic change.

Schism within Ukrainian Orthodoxy is another type of division which occurred for political motives. The resolution of this question will to a great deal depend on the hierarchy of the canonical Church, specifically how the hierarchs will accept returning clergymen who had at one time left. Now, as I understand, the approach to this is strict (acrivia). Still, if there is a genuine desire of many to return, the Church can always employ forbearance; but again, this depends on the will of the Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. We are left to pray and earnestly hope that the Church in Ukraine will once again be united.

— Almost three years has passed since the official reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia with the Russian Orthodox Church. How does your flock view this event today?

— The reunification of the two parts of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Homeland and abroad was a momentous event in recent history.

The division between our Churches was the result of persecution on the part of the Soviet state. When the persecutions ceased, Russia was given freedom of religion, and the Church then became one.

Of course, our flock is rejoicing. This is like a spiritual springtime in the life of the Church, a new joy. And I am convinced that all Orthodox people in Russia likewise rejoice at this great event.

— Why is it that upon reunification with the Russian Orthodox Church, ROCOR retained its name?

— When dialog began with the Russian Orthodox Church, everyone understood that the Church Abroad, though it had its own order of things, more than ninety years of experience, and it continues to live its own life, is still a part of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is the same Russian Church, but abroad. We share one faith and one structure of divine services, and common traditions. That is why history has seen us be accepted as a Church existing in unity with the canonical communities of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

— Today there are several dozen former parishes of ROCOR which did not recognize the reunification with the Russian Orthodox Church. Are any measures being taken towards returning the communities that have fallen away?

— The Church Abroad has through public appeals and in personal conversations attempted to persuade these people, who thought there were various obstacles to reunification, to come to terms with the necessity of a unified Church. Especially since all the obstacles have been removed and there is no reason not to enter into unity.

Unfortunately, some hierarchs who were at one time a part of the Russian Church Abroad did not agree with this and wrought a schism. But we pray that the Lord softens their hearts and grants them the knowledge that without ecclesiastical unity, there can be no real church life and salvation. That is why we bemoan this continuing division, and we hope that with time they will come to see the error of their ways and return to Church unity.

— From the moment the “iron curtain” fell, even before any official ecclesiastical contacts, there were frequent informal meetings between the faithful and clergymen of both Churches. Did you have such contacts at the time?

— Yes, of course. Once the doors were opened, the clergymen and bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate had the opportunity to come to the West. Many of them would come to our Cathedral, asking to pray before the miracle-working Kursk-Root Icon of the Mother of God “of the Sign.” And we were always glad to see this, though there was no Eucharistic communion between us at the time. The reasons for division came from the Evil One—the Enemy of our salvation meddled in our affairs.

— What do you think ROCOR’s main goals are today?

— Our aim is to nourish our many parishioners, because a large wave of emigres is now flooding all our parishes, coming from Russia and other former republics of the Soviet Union. We must draw them into the church, to the spiritual life, we must help them.

We are also obligated to teach the people, give them knowledge about their Orthodoxy, the true faith. And many respond to this, accepting the Orthodox faith in our churches, parishes and monasteries. So our main responsibilities are spiritual nourishment, missionary work and preaching Orthodoxy.

— In your opinion, how does the life of the parishioner of the Church Abroad differ from that of the Moscow Patriarchate?

— Of course, in Russia and Ukraine, the flock is large and the parishes are immeasurably bigger than they are abroad. That is why the labors of the priests are far more complicated there than for our pastors.

We find ourselves in different circumstances. Since our communities have fewer people, the clergymen are often forced to hold civil jobs in order to support their families and help the parish.

On the other hand, in our case, there is constant contact between our priests and parishioners, which is probably difficult to maintain in big parishes.

— Are there convents in ROCOR? In which American convent can one labor for the glory of God?

— The Russian Church Abroad has several convents. I would suggest Novo-Diveevo Convent of the Dormition, which is located some 30 kilometers from New York. A very experience abbess, Mother Irina, heads this convent. There are several nuns there now, and they would like to have helpers from the Slavic lands, particularly from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. There is another small monastery dedicated to St Elizabeth, not far from the men’s monastery in Jordanville, NY. There are also several smaller sketes…

— In your interviews, you note that one of the main problems facing ROCOR today is the lack of personnel. What is the Church doing to address this problem?

— We have Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY, and also correspondence courses in pastoral studies in various dioceses. For instance, the Chicago Diocese offers courses in English. Many of our future candidates for the priesthood are studying in the seminaries of the Orthodox Church in America, and even in Russia. So we are using all means to prepare clergymen for our parishes.

— What is your opinion on the formation of single Local Orthodox Churches in America and Europe (not by nationality, but by territory)?

— This is probably the right thing to do, but I doubt that Orthodox people of various nationalities in the USA today would agree on the formation there of a Local Church. Each jurisdiction (Greek, Bulgarian, Serbian) is very connected to its traditions and the particularities of its services, and over the next few generations it is doubtful that services would be conducted in one language, since new waves of immigrants keep arriving.

— The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and the Orthodox Church in America both now operate on the North American continent. How are parishes, monasteries and brotherhoods divided among these two parts of what is in essence one Church (since the Orthodox Church in America received autocephaly from the Russian Orthodox Church)? Do conflicts ever arise?

— Back when the Russian Church Abroad was established, the Orthodox Church in America was a part of it. But under Metropolitan Platon (Rozhdestvensky), the so-called “Russian Metropoliate” separated from the Church Abroad. In 1935, with the help of Patriarch Varnava of Serbia, it once again joined the Russian Church Abroad. But in 1946, during one of the Councils, some hierarchs separated from ROCOR. They formed an independent American Metropoliate, which was not recognized by either the Church Abroad or the Moscow Patriarchate. This continued until 1970, when it was recognized and received autocephaly from the Russian Orthodox Church.

We now have good relations with the Orthodox Church in America, and all the conflicts have been left behind. We do not compete for parishes, churches or monasteries between us. We hope for a closer, productive cooperative relationship, since we are all people of one ancestry and one faith.

Tserkovny vestnik No 12 (433), June 2010