Voices from Russia

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

An Interview with Metropolitan Hilarion by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda

Nikolai Varsegov

Your Eminence, if you please, tell our readers a little about yourself.

Metropolitan Hilarion

My mother and father were born in Poland, which was then part of the Russian Empire. However, when their home became part of the Soviet Ukraine, my parents went to Canada, where I was born on 6 January 1948. After finishing high school, I entered Holy Trinity Seminary in Jordanville NY, and afterwards, I was a monk at Holy Trinity Monastery. In 1984, I was consecrated a bishop, and in 1996, I became the head of the Diocese of Australia and New Zealand with the rank of archbishop. I was changed by this assignment. This diocese is very interesting… it’s enormous! There is so much missionary work we must do in Asia and Indonesia.

Nikolai Varsegov

What are the questions that most Russian journalists ask of you?

Metropolitan Hilarion

Oh, I try to avoid the press, especially the TV cameramen! I think that my Russian is poor, it embarrasses me.

Nikolai Varsegov

It is well-known that you were one of the main figures in the reconciliation talks between the ROCOR and the Moscow Patriarchate.

Metropolitan Hilarion

Oh, I would not say that I was one of the main figures. The decision for accepting the reconciliation came from the entire Holy Synod, they decided that the time for such had come. I was only part of a delegation of three clergymen who flew to Moscow. We then negotiated with His Holiness Patriarch Aleksei and other members of the MP Holy Synod concerning the reconciliation of our churches.

Nikolai Varsegov

There were opponents of the reconciliation amongst your clergy then, and, I understand that some still oppose it. How do they justify this opposition?

Metropolitan Hilarion

Their first disagreement lies in the fact that there are bishops serving in the MP today who were active in the Soviet times, who made compromises with the Soviet régime. They believe that these men have not made repentance for these actions. Secondly, they do not accept the fact that the MP participates in the World Council of Churches, in the so-called inter-religious dialogue.

Nikolai Varsegov

What do you think of these actions of the MP?

Metropolitan Hilarion

We were disturbed by (the participation of the MP in the WCC) since the 1960s, when Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople and Paul VI the Pope of Rome rescinded the mutual anathemas that the Orthodox and Catholic Churches imposed against each other in 1054. There were even instances of joint prayer, which are strictly forbidden by our canons. But, in 2000, the MP explicitly defined in a decree that the Orthodox Church is the true Church created originally by Christ. Moreover, Christians who have strayed over time from the ancient Church are not true Christians and their belief is false. The MP emphasises, the same as we do, that it is impossible to hold joint divine services with those who have strayed. The MP participates in the WCC for the purposes of maintaining a dialogue among Christians, but, we can see that there is no unity reached as a result, so, this organisation has lost its significance.

Nikolai Varsegov

In the MP, I constantly meet people who are dissatisfied with our hierarchs because they associate at a high level with Catholics, Muslims, and other heterodox sectarians. To what extent are these people correct in not accepting other religions?

Metropolitan Hilarion

The motives of the Orthodox bishops who meet with the representatives of other religions are purely moral and they do so only for the purpose of communication. It is not troubling if such happens at the meetings of the G8, where they search for some sort of agreement amidst all the contradictory sides.

Nikolai Varsegov

Today, the topic of whether to introduce courses in Orthodoxy in our secular schools in order to foster the Christian faith amongst our children is hotly debated. What do you think of this?

Metropolitan Hilarion

I think that such courses are very important, we should do this so that our children can realise the true significance of their lives. Russia shall then have a new generation with a true understanding of God and the Motherland, a generation with an understanding of their debt to the past. However, I am aware that Russia is a multinational state. Therefore, a course in Orthodoxy would not be obligatory for all students. For example, in parallel, Muslim and Jewish students could take courses covering their religions.

Nikolai Varsegov

But, can that avert the large danger (facing us)? Drawing from examples found in Russian history, we know that many conflicts erupt precisely on the soil of inter-religious strife. Do you think that extremists using religious jargon shall provoke conflicts based supposedly in faith?

Metropolitan Hilarion

In tsarist Russia, where there was a strong understanding of the Faith, there was no inter-religious strife whatsoever. True believers never use God as a pretext for hostility or violence towards the heterodox. Today, extremists are using the religious illiteracy of people to propagate false doctrines, especially amongst the young, and they use religious jargon to kindle hatred against those who confess other religions. Truly devout people, be they Muslims or Christians, resolve all of their disputes peacefully.

Nikolai Varsegov

There are some who are glad that it seems like there are many believers. The churches appear to be full of young people, but, in my view, this is all phoney religion. Before exams, all the students go to church, but, if no exams are coming up, they go off to drink beer… What sort of faith is this?

Metropolitan Hilarion

It requires long and difficult work in order to turn people properly to true faithfulness. What we need are educated priests who know how to speak to people and to explain things to them. This is a serious study… to help a person to understand prayer, and how through prayer one realises the importance of the soul and how one cleans one’s sins from it. All sins are originally thoughts. We develop these sinful thoughts, and often we carry them out to our ruin. Man… the battlefield of good and evil, here we learn to maintain a constant vigilance against evil. This is the most important thing we must learn as Orthodox Christians.

Nikolai Varsegov

What can priests from the ROCOR do to help missionary work in Russia?

Metropolitan Hilarion

The fact is that we do not have enough priests in the ROCOR. At the same time, my observations tell me that, in recent years, there are many priests in Russia who need more experience in Orthodoxy. God willing, this can be attended to quickly. We do have some priests who came to us from other confessions who could come to Russia and share their expertise. As a rule, they are very competent and committed people.

Nikolai Varsegov

Vladyki, what sort of changes are necessary in the Church today? For example, why can’t women come to church in trousers? Well, not in gaudy slacks with parrots on them, of course. Why can’t people sit during the long services?

Metropolitan Hilarion

Such traditions as we have in the Church are of ancient establishment, and if we change anything, it must be done very carefully. A woman wearing trousers to services is not an overly important thing. If something were to change, I would say the time is ripe to translate prayers from the Old Slavonic to the Russian language. Many do not understand Old Slavonic; therefore, they do not grasp the meaning of the sacraments and their way to God is impeded. Some parishioners abroad do not even know Russian or know it poorly, and there are also faithful who come from various (non-Russian) nationalities. In Australia, we do missionary work amongst the Aborigines! So, prayers must be translated into English, as well.

Nikolai Varsegov

Many take their children by the hand into the church and the kids are forced to listen to incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo for hours on end. I think that this shall turn our kids away from the faith and they shall see the weekly trek to church as nothing but torture.

Metropolitan Hilarion

Absolutely. I agree with you completely. We must teach our kids so that they would go to services with an understanding of it all. We should let our children participate in the services. Girls love to place candles and boys try to help in other ways. Children are curious, and they have many interesting questions concerning the Church. It is necessary that both priests and parents encourage questions from the kids and be able to give answers to them.

Nikolai Varsegov

Vladyki, what contemporary questions face your people in Australia?

Metropolitan Hilarion

Many people who find themselves in a foreign land in difficult situations. Australia is a wonderful country, and many people from Russia, as well as from all over the world, make their homes there. Often, our compatriots do not know English well, they find it difficult to get work, and some have visa problems. So, they fall into misfortune, and come to us in the church for help, for fellowship. Unfortunately, our church in Sydney does not have the means to offer shelter or employment to these people. Therefore, we direct them to the different organisations that are capable of rendering them some form of assistance. We work closely with the Russian Embassy in Canberra, which actively helps us solve some of these people’s problems.

Many Russian women marry Australians. Unfortunately, many of these marriages fail because of the difference in background and upbringing (of the spouses). Some of these women are beaten and abused by their husbands. We try to comfort them, and to try to direct them to seek aid from the courts, since the rights of women in Australia are well-protected and the law is frequently on their side.

Nikolai Varsegov

It is well-known that many women from Russia and the CIS dream of falling in love with an Australian man. They write to their suitor and fly there in a search for personal happiness. What is your advice to them, Vladyki?

Metropolitan Hilarion

I would advise them to approach this question with caution and care. It is always true that one should not believe all the promises of Paradise found in letters sent by Australian suitors. It is hardly worthwhile to pack your bags and say farewell to Russia. Rather, you should come first on an ordinary tourist visa and look at everything attentively, study your suitor carefully, and see how people interact with one another. Australia is a country obsessed with work. People are absorbed with work here, and most talk concerns work and business. Therefore, Russians living here mostly miss the simple and sincere contacts (found in the motherland).

Nikolai Varsegov

In earlier times, Russians looked for their salvation abroad. Today, Russian emigrants are still searching for a sweet and warm life. I drew this conclusion after talking with Russian students in Australia. How do you plan to relate to them? How shall they keep their ties with the motherland? They grew up in Russia, it raised and educated them, and, now, they fly out the door in order to give their all to another country…

Metropolitan Hilarion

I think that many of the young people who have come from Russia to Australia shall ultimately return to the motherland. At least, the true patriots shall return, those who cannot live without their motherland. However, in Australia, they can acquire knowledge of a new culture and good training, which shall be in demand back home.

Nikolai Varsegov

You are saying that there shall be a natural selection? The patriots shall return, but, the other ones, the pitiful ones…

Metropolitan Hilarion

Most importantly, Russians abroad must not lose the feeling of their motherland. They must not forget their language, and they must develop their best national moral qualities. I would like to convey this wish not only to Russian immigrants, but, also to all Russians, who do not plan to emigrate abroad.

God preserve Russia!

13 May 2008

Komosomolskaya Pravda

As quoted in Sedmitza.ru

http://www.sedmitza.ru/

Editors Note:

This was another one of those pieces that was a “bear” to put together. I have no illusions as to being the best translator from Russian to English. Nevertheless, there are many Orthodox Christians who do not read Russian at all, and this is an important read, I would say.

People need to know what sort of man Metropolitan Hilarion is, and this interview is illuminating. He is not Vladyki Laurus, but, that is a “hard act to follow”. We are in for changes in the church, and not merely in the ROCOR. Vladyki Hilarion shall steer the ship of the faith through those storms as well as Vladyki Laurus sailed it through the storms swirling about the reconciliation.

Well, Vladyki Hilarion has hit the ground running, and that is a good sign. May God preserve him.

BMD

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