His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion of Eastern America and New York, First Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, talks about the recent Council of Bishops in Moscow, the preaching Christ in today’s world, on the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia and about Orthodox Christians in the United States.
– Vladyka Hilarion, what were the results of the recent Council of Bishops?
– The main fruit that we bring to God is podvig. We must point out that there are substitutions being proposed for the Church of Christ, and we must infuse life into the communities and clergymen in accordance with Holy Scripture and the patristic teachings of the Church. All these things were addressed during deliberations at the Council, and that which was unclear was defined, thanks especially to the work of those who drafted documents for the Council. Everything was reviewed, studied and edited. Several remarkable documents were produced by the Council which outlined how to deal with various situations in the Church, how to evade counterfeit teachings that the world tries to impose, and how we Orthodox Christians must live in today’s realities in accordance with Gospel teachings of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.
– Youth ministry was identified as a priority in Church life by the Council. How are young people to be turned towards Christ?
– Young people are the most important thing we have—they are the future of the Church. We need to tend to areas where little is being done in rearing our youth, beginning with the littlest kids in our parish. In the emigration, we have Saturday parish schools. We try to teach Russian language, history, literature, etc. We must support our youth even after they graduate from parish school. We need to immerse ourselves into what their interests are now. We need to host more frequent youth conferences where they can get to know each other, at which the truths of the faith are explained in their own language.
If the foundation of one’s faith is laid down during childhood, then it is easier to find one’s way later in life. If this foundation is lacking, everything becomes more complicated. We often see “mixed marriages,” in which only one person is an Orthodox Christian. If an Orthodox husband or wife has even a moderate level of faith, this grace-filled effect can serve as an example of inner life and with God’s help can help convert the other, establishing a good family life. If an unbelieving spouse begins to dominate, however, then unfortunately, the family can find itself separated from the Church.
At a young age, even children from churchly families often leave the care of their parents and pastors and fall under the influence of negative things. We especially sense this pressure in the secular world abroad. We must try to restrain every person entering this all-important phase of life from making mistakes that lead to catastrophe: young men and women should at least stay close to the Church.
Parishes can set up athletic groups, pilgrimage clubs, organized around common interests and hobbies, just so young people can stay in touch with the Church. We must constantly invent new forms and possibilities for youth to express themselves on the parish level and maintain activities around the Church. This is hard in today’s world. Priests in Russia have a better opportunity to plan youth ministry, and they shouldn’t pass it up.
– What is the most important thing in Church life?
– To stay together in unity, to develop every person’s talents and draw more people towards salvation.
The Church has always been Catholic, Universal. The Lord commanded: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). This mission exists here in Russia, too. How many people who call themselves Orthodox Christians actually attend church? They deem themselves to be Orthodox, but just don’t understand what that means, and how wonderful it is to be in actuality.
– Hieromonk Nikolai of Essex said that his uncle, Schema-Archimandrite Sofrony (Sakharov), was once told by an Anglican that he had just become Orthodox a week earlier, and he replied with a smile: “Orthodox? I’ve been trying to be Orthodox for 70 years and I just can’t do it…”
– People need the Church. Émigrés from Russia, Moldova, Ukraine and other countries come to the West seeking work, and end up finding what they didn’t realize they had at home. When people come to Church Abroad, they obtain the Motherland which for various reasons was lacking in their homeland. In the diaspora, among foreigners, one begins to seek something near and dear, and this closeness can be found specifically in Christ. Entire families return to the Church after decades of absence. They gradually flow together in unity, they find their community, theu become part of the Body of Christ. This is wonderful!
– What should today’s mission be to bring the Word of Christ to those who are far from the Church?
– We need to exploit the mass media, the internet, publish new books, these sources can bring the Good News to many of our contemporaries. Even if these are secular means of communication, people can learn about God. When their interest is garnered, they can come to the Church and even convert to Orthodox Christianity. How many Americans, for example, came to the faith from having read the book The Way of a Pilgrim, or the book of Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), The Orthodox Church, for example? Plus those who read these books in German or French.
– What language do you use in divine services?
– In America it is very important to celebrate services in two languages: Church Slavonic and English.
– Which are you more drawn to?
– Church Slavonic, though our parishes have people of a wide variety of backgrounds. In Washington’s St John the Baptist Cathedral, for instance, early Sunday Liturgy is celebrated in English, and later Liturgy is in Church Slavonic, and the church is filled beyond capacity at each. In New York, our Synodal Cathedral of Our Lady “of the Sign” and St Sergius Chapel have services in each language. In Brooklyn, also, because most people are Russian-speaking immigrants, they serve in Slavonic. But where there are mostly Americans, they serve in English. It all depends.
– Vladimir Nikolaevich Lossky, a Russian émigré, once wrote “Where the Holy Spirit is, there is always diversity.”
– Yes, and the Russian Church Abroad, though isolated from lay American society, maintains contact with Greek, Antiochian, Serbian and Albanian Orthodox Churches.
– Do these traditions enrich each other?
– Yes, for some time, some of our parishioners attended a Greek Orthodox Church. They preferred the Byzantine chant. Now we have parishes which conduct services in English but use the Byzantine melodies.
Because some of the Greek bishops in America were once tempted to modernism, their priests would shave their beards. However, we maintain a healthy conservatism. Here we can mostly see the opposite effect. Thank God, it was understood that the ancient traditions should be observed. You now see that many clergymen who once shaved their beards have returned to the appearance that corresponds with their rank.
Many Greeks are now inspired by the example of Elder Ephraim of Philotheou. His spiritual authority in America is palpable, especially among many young priests and parishioners of the Greek Orthodox Church.
– What is special about the Russian Church Abroad?
– I don’t think there is anything special about us today. We preserve Russian, even Tsarist, pre-Revolutionary traditions. Compared with the Church in Russia, we are only a small community, we are few, so we all know each other. We have a Church family. Bishops and priests know their flock, if not by name, at least by face. We know each other and we’re all accessible. Here in Russia, with so many people who come to Church, this type of community is impossible. After divine services we try to stay for a trapeza luncheon, we invite people and church-goers to the table.
We have other problems than those that the Russian Orthodox Church faces. We are more separated from society. We are scattered territorially. We don’t have as many clergymen, we need to educate them or invite them from other Churches, from other countries. But with God’s help, this “yeast,” which was disseminated throughout the world after the Revolution in Russia, when many Russians began resettling after 1920 or so, has supported the Church in most continents, in many lands.
New forces are streaming into our communities: not only émigrés from Russia and other countries of the former USSR who seek employment, but Americans who come to the Church. Many, many people in the West are converting to Orthodoxy.
– Why is that?
– Because they see the Truth of Orthodox Christianity. They see that Orthodoxy corresponds to ancient times, where the evangelical and patristic teachings have been gathered and confirmed over centuries. This brings us all great joy. New parishes are formed, including English-language parishes. We are not so small after all! America has become a very fruitful harvest-field for Orthodoxy.
– Is already apparent that this is where the “harvest-fields of Christ” will be in the future?
– There are believers in the United States, especially among former Anglicans, who are actively being “churchfied” in the Russian Orthodox Church. The Anglican Church has broken apart, and many older clergymen are converting to Orthodoxy. We receive them. We ordain them so that they can serve as Orthodox pastors. Their flocks follow their conversion to Orthodoxy. I constantly get appeals from them, to receive them and ordain them. Of course, we prepare them first. But when we start to work with them, we realize that they have already studied a great deal about Orthodox Christianity.
A great deal of literature about Orthodoxy is being published in English today, as well as in other languages. Many who convert to Orthodoxy turn out to be very well read. All this, by Divine mercy, grows the Church of Christ, broadens Her salvific horizons. New Orthodox parishes emerge in places where none ever existed, and Orthodoxy is spreading through the American continent. Orthodox Christianity, thank God, is strengthening in America. Many Americans are drawn in, and many convert. Hieromonk Seraphim (Rose) has had a great influence on his compatriots since the 1960’s. His books continue to quench the thirst of readers and deepen their understanding of Orthodoxy.
– One of the priorities of the Council was the education of clergymen. How do you deal with this issue today?
– We try to educate our pastors, but it’s not easy. We only have one seminary: Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville, NY. There aren’t many Russian-speaking students, so we decided to switch to English. We also have correspondence courses, like the ones that the Orthodox Pastoral School of Chicago offers. This helps a great number of American converts receive pastoral training and be ordained, and the good news of the teachings of Christ are spread further among Americans.
Not everyone who wishes to have a theological education can enroll in Jordanville, so they study from home. Some enroll in Moscow Theological Seminary and Academy, and other schools in Russia. Some of our future clergymen study at St Tikhon Orthodox Humanitarian University.
– That institution had at one time been one of the main centers of study of the lives of the New Martyrs, an effort that has now spread throughout the Russian Orthodox Church. The identification of the “Ekaterinburg remains,” purportedly of the Royal Family, was a matter left unresolved by the Council of Bishops. How are the Royal Martyrs revered now in the Church Abroad, which was the first to canonize them?
– We venerate the entire host of New Martyrs whose names we know: the Royal Martyrs, Holy Patriarch Tikhon and the Holy Hierarchs, the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia. Since the relics of many of them have not been discovered, and we don’t even know when and where some of them were killed, so we have a general celebration for them all, and mark special occasions of mass repressions. A great deal has been published and translated into other languages, including English. Time is needed for people to read and absorb all of this. Many books are now coming from Russia which reveal information about those who suffered. It is important that expertise be done on the identification of relics, including those that might belong to the Royal Martyrs.
– Is the very truth of Orthodox Christianity revealed by the podvig of the New Martyrs in the 20th century?
– Yes, in light of the American experience, we try to turn to the efforts of the New Martyrs of the Russian Church.
– That is, there is little in American tradition to draw from?
– Sitting during divine services, the abridgement of services, when the litany for catechumens is dropped, etc, these are all violations of tradition. There are negative tendencies stemming from the desire to abandon centuries-old traditions.
– How does the “little flock” of Orthodox Christianity affect American society?
– There is little apparent influence on the external world. The pastors and parishioners who live piously simply display Christ to the world.